Charges dropped against former ‘Teacher of the Year’ who was accused of striking student

Student had been posting threatening messages before alleged incident occurred

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The State Attorney’s Office has decided not to prosecute a former Duval County “Teacher of the Year” who was accused of child abuse.

Caroline Lee, who was named “Teacher of the Year” at Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts last year, was arrested in October 2021 and accused of striking a student in the face during a confrontation.

According to a disposition statement News4JAX obtained from the State Attorney’s Office, the student had been posting threatening messages in the days leading up to the alleged incident including her wishes for Lee to die. Rather than getting the administration involved, Lee decided to use this as a teaching moment and confronted the student privately, according to the report. Following the discussion, the student went to a guidance counselor with a bloody nose and said Lee struck her.

There were no witnesses and no video of the incident, according to the State Attorney’s Office.

Lee took a polygraph test while being asked about the incident and it was determined her denial was truthful.

The disposition also points out the difference in size between the student and the teacher. Lee is 5-foot-2 and the student is significantly taller. The disposition says, “it would have been extremely difficult for the Defendant to have struck the Victim in the face.”

“Even though the Victim appeared with blood present, the pictures do not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the blood resulted from a strike,” the report reads. “The Defendant has been consistent in her denial of the account, and the physical size of the parties and description of events is consistent with her account. Additionally, the Defendant has a viable argument that the Victim reported the incident in an effort to avoid another disciplinary action from the school administration.”

After her arrest, Lee was ordered not to return to Darnell-Cookman. Principal Tyrus Lyles sent a message to parents that Lee had been removed from the classroom and would not return “pending the judicial and internal procedures.”

Her arraignment kept getting delayed, and on Friday, the State Attorney’s Office filed a disposition notice that dropped the charge following a review of the evidence, which included surveillance video from the school and testimony from the student who made the allegations.

An assistant state attorney met with the child’s mother and they came to an agreement that Lee will not return to Darnell Cookman as a teacher.

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Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.

Joy Purdy co-anchors the 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. newscasts with Tarik Minor and the 11 p.m. weeknight newscasts with Kent Justice.