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Florida principal who spanked girl, 6, won’t be charged

Hendry County school officials declined to comment on whether the principal would face disciplinary action, citing an ongoing investigation.
Published May 10
Updated May 10

CLEWISTON — A Florida elementary school principal will not be prosecuted for spanking a 6-year-old girl in front of her mother last month, officials said.

The State Attorney’s Office that covers Hendry County released a memo Friday explaining that corporal punishment is legal in Florida and that the principal of Central Elementary School in Clewiston appeared to have explicit permission from the child’s mother. Clewiston is located near the southwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee.

A school staff member called the girl’s mother on April 13 to report that the first grader had damaged some computer equipment and that the mother would have to pay for it, officials said. The mother reportedly told the staff member that the girl was also causing damage at home, but she was afraid to spank the child. The mother then asked whether a school staff member could spank the girl, officials said. The staff member explained that the mother would have to give permission in person and be present for the punishment, officials said.

A video secretly taken by the mother and later turned over to law enforcement shows the principal and staff member, both women, holding the girl in place while the principal spanks her three times. The principal explains to the girl why she was being spanked and tells her to apologize to her mother. At no point during the video does the mother object to the punishment. The mother can be heard thanking the principal near the end of the video, officials said.

The mother reported the spanking to the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office the next day. She told investigators that there was a language barrier, and she didn’t understand what the principal was going to do, officials said. The school staff member said their initial telephone conversation was in Spanish. Clewiston police took over the case, but when their detectives tried to interview the mother, she declined to give a sworn statement, officials said.

Prosecutors noted in the memo that edited portions of the original video had been released to the news media, resulting in an incomplete or misleading account of the events surrounding the spanking.

An attorney representing the mother didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Hendry County school officials declined to comment on whether the principal would face disciplinary action, citing an ongoing investigation.