CLEWISTON, Fla. (WFLA/NewsNation Now) — A review by a local state attorney’s office found that a Florida elementary school principal did not commit a crime when she paddled a six-year-old in front of the child’s mother.
The mother was told to bring the money to the school to pay for $50 worth of damage to a computer. When she got there, she was taken to the principal’s office, where she found her daughter, Principal Melissa Carter, and another staff member identified as Cecilia Self.
Then the principal took out a paddle.
The girl’s mother started recording on her cellphone. Carter is seen using a paddle to strike the girl three times. She starts crying after the first.
The little girl can be heard saying, “no, no.”
After that the girl sits down, crying, while Carter continues to yell.
“You better tell your momma you’re sorry. And you better not treat her like that either,” said Carter. “Because I’m going to tell you what, if your mom wants to come up to the school and spank you, and we can watch, that’s gonna happen.”
The child then tearfully says, “yes Ma’am,” when asked if she understands Carter.
The Office of the State Attorney’s Office for the Twentieth Judicial Circuit released a memo late Friday.
The memo called the child’s mother’s credibility into question after Carter and Self told authorities that she said her daughter was “damaging things at her home but was afraid to discipline her by spanking because her daughter threatened to call police and the Department of Children and Families.”
Self said the child’s mother requested the school spank her daughter, but she was told she needed to be present for the spanking.
According to both Carter and Self, the child’s mother went to the school and made the request.
An interview of the child was redacted from the memo released by the state attorney’s office.
The memo states the child’s mother told Hendry County sheriff’s deputies that she went to the school to witness the discipline, but there was a language barrier that caused her to be “confused” and that she “did not understand the process correctly.”
According to the memo, the Clewiston Police Department attempted to speak with the child’s mother again, but she did not return phone calls. Her attorney, Brent Probinsky, returned calls instead.
The memo adds that the child’s mother indicates she intentionally “sacrificed” her daughter because no one would believe her about what was happening at the school unless she video recorded it.
The state attorney’s office memo states, “a parent has a right to use corporal punishment to discipline their children, and similarly has the right to consent that others do so on their behalf.”
Florida is one of 19 states where corporal, or physical punishment, is legal in public schools from preschool through high school, but it is not allowed at the Hendry County School District, where this incident happened.
Additionally, the memo states Florida law is clear that spanking a child does not amount to child abuse.
You can read the full memo below.