A Florida principal is under investigation after a 6-year-old girl’s mother recorded a cellphone video showing her paddling the first-grader at an elementary school in Clewiston.
Central Elementary School Principal Melissa Carter, with assistance from a school aide, paddled the girl in front of her mother after the student damaged a computer screen, according to the Clewiston Police Department — which is handling the investigation.
On April 14, police received a phone call from Hendry Regional Medical Center staff requesting an officer after the girl’s mother asked for a police report, Clewiston police said in a statement released to the Miami Herald.
“The investigation remains ongoing at this time. The Clewiston Police Department takes all matters of child welfare seriously and remains committed to protecting the most vulnerable members of our community,” authorities added. “The Clewiston Police Department is working diligently to ensure that the rights of all parties in this matter are preserved.”
Samantha Syoen is the communications director for the Office of the State Attorney’s 20th Judicial Circuit that handles cases in Hendry County. She said the police investigation is still active and that her office will review the case once the handover is complete — which could be a matter of days or weeks, she said Tuesday.
Syoen acknowledged that there has been interest in this matter from the number of media requests she’s fielded in Florida, nationally and “from around the world.”
In addition to the police, the Department of Children and Families and the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office have been provided with information, the police noted.
In the video, posted on WINK News on April 30 and provided to the Herald by Florida attorney Brent Probinsky — who is representing the mother — the principal is seen striking the girl three times with a wooden paddle. The girl, in blue jeans, is seen bent over a chair as Carter issues the first strike. After she’s struck once, the girl starts to cry and edges away from the chair, but the aide positions the child for Carter, who then whacks her two more times.
“Now calm down. Calm down before you make yourself sick,” Carter is heard telling the crying child when the punishment is over.
“If I had done it with my own hand, it would’ve been bad for me. I don’t know, I’d be in jail,” the girl’s mother said in Spanish in WINK’s broadcast.
The woman said she did not intervene, aside from shooting the video, because of her “legal status,” according to WINK. She has since hired Probinsky of Probinsky & Cole for representation.
Probinsky told The New York Times that “the woman had received a call on April 13 from the school saying that her daughter had damaged a computer screen at the school in Clewiston” and that she was told to bring $50 to pay for the damage. Probinsky said the mother complied.
“I was appalled at how brutal this principal beat this child,” Probinsky told The New York Times.
The Hendry County School District’s statement acknowledged that “the situation is under investigation” but that it would not give any further statements at this time.
According to the district’s policy:
“The Superintendent shall promulgate administrative procedures for student conduct which carry out the purposes of this policy and:
▪ are not arbitrary but bear a reasonable relationship to the need to maintain a school environment conducive to learning;
▪ do not discriminate among students;
▪ do not demean students;
▪ do not tend to violate any individual rights constitutionally guaranteed to students.
▪ The Superintendent shall designate sanctions for the infractions of rules, excluding corporal punishment.”
The principal was placed on administrative leave, according to WESH2.