Florida Principal Under Investigation for Paddling 6-Year-Old Student, Authorities Say


A Florida principal is being investigated after a video surfaced of her paddling a 6-year-old student in front of her mother at an elementary school, the authorities said.

The principal, Melissa Carter of Central Elementary School in Clewiston, Fla., struck the girl with a paddle last month, according to cellphone video of the episode and the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office.

In an email on Monday, Robert J. Egley, the deputy superintendent at the Hendry County District Schools, said that “the situation is still under investigation” and did not provide any further details.

The Clewiston Police Department, which is also investigating the matter, said that its inquiry was “ongoing.”

Brent Probinsky, a lawyer for the mother, said 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, which is about 80 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The woman, Mr. Probinsky said, was told to bring $50 to the school office to pay for the damage, which he said she did.

In a cellphone video of the episode that WINK-TV posted on its website, the student bent over a chair as Ms. Carter struck her three times with a paddle while they stood next to a school clerk. After the first strike, the video shows, the child began to cry and moved away from the chair, but the two women repositioned her there, then Ms. Carter told her “Put your hands down” and hit her again twice. Afterward, the child complained of “severe pain” on her lower back and buttocks, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“I was appalled at how brutal this principal beat this child,” Mr. Probinksy said.

The girl’s mother told the television station that she was horrified by how her daughter had been beaten. “The hatred with which she hit my daughter,” the woman said in Spanish, “I mean it was a hatred that, really, I’ve never hit my daughter like she hit her.”

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its Ingraham v. Wright decision that school corporal punishment is constitutional, meaning that each state can make its own rules when physically disciplining students.

Corporal punishment, which is defined as paddling, spanking or other forms of physical punishment, is permitted in 19 states, mainly in the South. Students are typically spanked with paddles that measure up to two feet long and several inches wide.

Although Florida permits corporal punishment, the Hendry County District Schools policy does not allow it. The school district policy states that “the superintendent shall designate sanctions for the infractions of rules, excluding corporal punishment.” The policy encourages procedures that “do not demean students” and “do not tend to violate any individual rights constitutionally guaranteed to students.”

The Clewiston Police Department said it had received a report last month from the Hendry Regional Medical Center staff requesting that an officer be dispatched to a complaint about a child with injuries and saying that the mother wanted to file a police report.

The Police Department said that the Department of Children and Families and the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office had been provided information regarding the matter.

Ms. Carter did not immediately respond to phone and email messages on Monday afternoon requesting comment.

Mr. Probinsky said he and his client hoped that criminal and administrative action would be taken in the matter and that the episode would shine a light on corporal punishment.

As for the 6-year-old girl, he said, she has since transferred to another school.

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