CLEWISTON - Corporal punishment is against Hendry School District policy. However, the State Attorney’s Office for the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, which covers Hendry County, released a memo late Friday stating that Principal Melissa Carter, and Cecilia Self, a school clerk, at Central Elementary School in Clewiston did not commit a crime when a 6-year-old was given corporal punishment in front of the child’s mother.
On April 13, after the child damaged a computer, Carter and Self spanked the child with a wooden paddle three times. The incident was recorded by the child’s mother. The video went viral, worldwide.
Following announcement by State Attorney, Amira Fox, not to file criminal charges against the principal and her assistant, Brent Probinsky, the attorney for the family of the child who was paddled, issued a response.
“State Attorney Amira Fox, whose jurisdiction includes Hendry County, Florida, announced on May 7, that she would not file criminal charges against a Hendry County, Florida elementary school principal and her assistant, who brutally paddled a fist grader for scratching a school computer valued at fifty dollars,” Probinsky stated. “Many have seen the video of this horrific beating with a large wooden paddle of this little six-year-old who stood only three feet tall and weighed but forty pounds. Fox’s decision not to criminally charge the principal and assistant with criminal battery was based on an extremely flawed legal analysis in which she applied the wrong law to determine whether or not a criminal act was committed.”
According to Probinsky, the Hendry County School District, where this Central Elementary School is located, has a written rule prohibiting any corporal punishment of students by any teacher or principal.
The rule clearly states: “The supervisor shall specify sanctions for violations of the rules, except for corporal punishment,” said Probinsky.
He went on to explain, “The law of the State of Florida also requires that a school principal and teacher must follow the rules of the individual local school district pertaining to any punishment of students: Subject to law and to the rules of the district school board, each teacher or other member of the staff of any school shall have such authority for the control and discipline of students as may be assigned to him or her… Florida Statute 1003.32”
“The principal, Melissa Carter, and her assistant, Celia Self, who held down and violently paddled this six-year-old first grader, violated the clearly written rule of the Hendry County School District that prohibits any paddling or any other forms of corporal punishment as well as Florida law that dictates that the school staff must adhere to the district’s rules – in this case a strict prohibition of corporal punishment,” Probinsky said. “The principal and her assistant committed the crime of an aggravated battery, a felony, in Florida. A battery occurs, for example, if someone gets into a bar fight and punches another person in the face with his fist. That’s simple battery, a misdemeanor, since no weapon was used. But if he’s hit with large a wooden paddle, it is aggravated battery, a felony.”
“The State Attorney, Amira Fox, failed to consider the clearly written law that applies in this case that prohibits any corporal punishment of any kind, including paddling, in all Hendry County public schools. Instead, Fox mistakenly applied the law that governs in some other Florida counties, where corporal punishment in public schools is still permitted or where a parent is allowed to physically punish his/her own child. In those circumstances where corporal punishment is permitted, a state attorney, when considering whether or not to file criminal charges, must consider several factors, including whether the physical punishment was reasonably related to the offence, was excessive or harmful to the child and if it had an educational purpose,” Probinsky went on. “State Attorney Fox in this case mistakenly considered the issue of whether the paddling of this first grader was reasonable and not excessive, and she decided it was reasonable and not excessive. Instead, she should have simply asked if it was legally permitted at all in any Hendry County public school. The answer is clearly, “no.” Any paddling is illegal in every Hendry County public school and is a criminal battery.”
Probinsky said the State Attorney also believed that the mother gave permission for them to paddle her child, but, “Every school principal who paddles a student is sure to get written permission from the parent for such a serious punishment but there was none from the mother, who went to the sheriff’s office the next day to file a complaint against the principal.”
“While the mother did not give permission, the State Attorney in her flawed logic, thinks a parent can give permission to another to commit a criminal act against their child and the actor is therefore absolved of criminal consequences,” said Probinsky. “By failing to file criminal charges, State Attorney Fox gave a free pass to the principal and her assistant who clearly violated the law in Hendry County by severely beating this small child. The principal stated in the video that she believes she can paddle children for misbehavior at home. This should also be of concern to our parents of school children.”
“What message is State Attorney Fox sending to other teachers and principals who now believe they will risk no criminal charges if they paddle elementary school children, some severely, for the smallest of infractions?” he asked. “The stated purpose of corporal punishment is to intentionally inflict physical pain on another person. Corporal punishment of our servicemen and women in the military is strictly prohibited. It’s prohibited in our prisons and juvenile detention centers. It’s against the law to beat your dog or your horse with a wooden paddle for the purpose of inflicting pain. All of those acts are too barbaric and cruel to be tolerated in a civilized society. But in a few counties in Florida, not including Hendry County, and in 19 other states, corporal punishment of students, including little first graders, like our innocent six-year-old victim at Central Elementary, is still allowed. It is a cruel relic of the past and should be banned in all of our schools.”
Hendry County School District Representatives declined to comment on the matter.