Principal’s attorney says there is culture of corporal punishment in Hendry County

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Attorney Steven Rasmunni represents Principal Melissa Carter of Central Elementary School. Carter was investigated after a recording of her spanking a 6-year-old student with a wooden paddle became public. Credit: WINK News.

For the first time, the lawyer for the principal caught on camera paddling a 6-year-old told his client’s side of the story.

Paddling is banned within Hendry County District Schools, but the Attorney Steven Ramunni says it’s been happening for years.

The school district’s policy doesn’t allow corporal punishment, including spanking. There are no exceptions provided in the policy.

But Ramunni, who is representing Principal Melissa Carter of Central Elementary School in Clewiston, told us what’s on paper is not what the school district practices.

Ramunni says the school district never stopped regarding a parent request to discipline his or her child. He told us that’s why his client never stopped spanking students.

“It’s been going on for years,” Ramunni said.

Florida Department of Education said that’s not good enough. In a letter, the education commissioner says there’s probable cause for sanctions against Carter.

Florida Department of Children and Families said, Carter’s “actions were excessive and inappropriate.”

But the school district’s investigation came to a different conclusion, and the school board decided to reappoint Carter as principal of Central Elementary.

“Probably because the district investigation here is based in reality and knowing more of the facts as opposed to what has gone on in Tallahassee,” Ramunni said.

We reached out to Superintendent Michael Swindle for comment on the words of Carter’s attorney, but we were told he was unavailable.

Because the state ruled there’s probable cause for sanctions against Carter, she could lose her educator’s certificate.

Carter and her lawyer told us they will fight that, so she can be principal again come August.

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