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HomeNewsLocal newsFlorida Principal Who Paddled Student Will Not Face Criminal Charges, Prosecutor Says

Florida Principal Who Paddled Student Will Not Face Criminal Charges, Prosecutor Says


Editor’s note: For many years the Source offered direct links to other respected news outlets across the globe on its front page. When several of the publications adopted pay walls, the links were removed. The Source did not, however, lose track of the importance of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ connectedness to the rest of the world. Therefore, the Source has begun to offer a variety of articles, beginning with the Washington Post, from other places selected by our editors for their particular relevance to USVI matters. We are publishing this story that has made national news for the following reason. That repeated attempts to rid the territory of the scourge of corporal punishment in our schools has eluded the Virgin Islands so far despite our own embarrassing video saga has long been a source of pain for our children and this publication. The only senator who voted to ban corporal punishment last September aside from the bill’s sponsor Sen. Janelle Sarauw was long-time law enforcement official Sen. Novelle Francis, who along with serving as police commissioner spent many years working in the V.I. Police Department’s Juvenile Division. Francis said, “It doesn’t work,” and that he also believed it led directly to violent behavior in adulthood.

A Florida principal who paddled a first-grade student in front of her mother will not face any criminal charges, the state attorney’s office announced Friday.

Deputy Chief Assistant State Attorney Abraham Thornburg released a three-page memo to police in Clewiston, Fla., stating that Central Elementary School Principal Melissa Carter did not commit any crimes when she paddled a 6-year-old student three times on her buttocks in front of her mother last month.

Florida law is clear that spankings do not constitute child abuse, Thornburg wrote in his memo, adding that as a parent, the girl’s mother has the right to consent to others disciplining her child on her behalf. He also questioned the credibility of the mother, Fabiola Rivera, whom he described as uncooperative in the state attorney’s investigation.

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“Based upon the evidence reviewed, the actions of Ms. Carter in this case do not meet the elements of any criminal offense in the State of Florida,” Thornburg wrote.

The case gained national attention last week when video surfaced of Carter, 37, paddling Rivera’s crying child with the help of a school clerk, Cecilia Self, in front of Rivera, who recorded the incident on her cellphone.

Rivera went to authorities the next day to report the incident, triggering an investigation by the Clewiston Police Department and Hendry County District Schools and outrage among community members, local outlets reported.

Brent Probinsky, the family’s attorney, said the paddling amounted to aggravated criminal battery. He told The Washington Post on Sunday that he was disappointed in the decision by the state attorney’s office and that the office was applying the wrong law.

“In this situation, any corporal punishment is not allowed in Hendry County schools,” he said, adding that focus on excessive force was not the correct approach. “This activity of the principal was not allowed by the school district, and Florida law says you have to follow the school district. . . . In the memo, the state attorney asked all the wrong questions.”

In the memo, the state attorney’s office said that, according to the interpreter, the child’s mother had given permission for the April 13 paddling after being notified that the child had damaged a school computer for which the mother would be charged $50.

Self, who was there to interpret, explained to the mother in Spanish that the child had damaged property at the school. In response, the mom allegedly disclosed that the child also was damaging stuff at home but that she was too afraid to discipline her because the girl threatened to call the Florida Department of Children and Families, Thornburg wrote in his report.

Rivera told WINK-TV that Self’s Spanish-to-English interpretations were inaccurate.

The state attorney’s office said the mother again gave permission for the paddling after arriving at the school.

Neither Carter nor the superintendent of Hendry County District Schools immediately responded to requests for comment Sunday.

The mother told WINK that when she got to the school, it was just Carter, Self and her daughter in the principal’s office with no cameras, which caused her to record the paddling in case no one believed her.

“I sacrificed my daughter, so all parents can realize what’s happening in this school,” she told the station.

Carter told the child that she should be glad she was not her daughter, because if so, she would spank her all the time for her behavior, according to video and audio obtained by TMZ.

“I wish you would try to call the police on me,” the principal tells the first-grader, according to the audio recording. “That’s called being a brat. . . . I wouldn’t give you money for anything. I wouldn’t get you nice clothes. You would get what you got, and that’s it.”

In the video, Self instructs the little girl to stick out her bottom in anticipation of the paddle.

The first hit makes the child stand up and cry in pain before she’s told by Carter to put her hands down for more swats.

When the paddling is over, Carter yells at the sniffling child about treating her mother better, the video shows.

Thornburg wrote that “edited portions of the full video appear to have been cut and released to the media at different times, and have resulted in an incomplete and misleading account of the incident to the public.”

He said the mother’s “sacrificed” comment to the media was “wholly inconsistent with her initial statement to law enforcement that she was confused and did not consent” to the paddling.

The state attorney’s office concluded that there was “no evidence or indication of great bodily harm, permanent harm or permanent disfigurement” to the child to warrant aggravated battery charges.

Probinsky, the family’s attorney, disputes the state attorney’s version of events.

Corporal punishment is allowed in some counties across Florida, but not in Hendry County, where the paddling occurred.

“You can’t give permission for someone to do something illegal,” the lawyer said. “Every school that allows paddling gives a written permission slip. . . . The first opportunity she has, the mom goes to the sheriff’s office. How could she be given permission that the she thinks is wrong?”

The state attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

Probinsky said the child has been moved to another school within the district and has suffered emotional distress from the paddling. He added that the state attorney office’s decision sends a chilling message to educators across the state.

“The principal stated in the video that she believes she can paddle children for misbehavior at home,” Probinsky said in a statement. “This should also be of concern to our parents of schoolchildren.”

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