A first-grade teacher in St. Francisville resigned this week amid an investigation into allegations she berated, kicked and slapped a student during a lunch break at Bains Lower Elementary School.
West Feliciana Parish sheriff’s deputies issued an arrest warrant for the teacher, Chanel M. Lemelle, on Thursday on a count of cruelty to juveniles after a number of people told deputies that Lemelle struck the student inside the school’s cafeteria on Jan. 23. The incident also was captured by surveillance cameras.
Attempts to reach Lemelle on Friday evening were unsuccessful.
Her father, J.S. “Stan” Lemelle, a retired federal prosecutor who once served as the interim U.S. attorney for Louisiana’s Middle District, said the family is deferring comment to his daughter’s attorney, Don Cazayoux.
Cazayoux, also a retired federal prosecutor and former state legislator who now works with Stan Lemelle at a private firm in Baton Rouge, said Chanel Lemelle is a dedicated teacher who taught in the West Feliciana School District for about a decade.
“She’s devastated,” Cazayoux said. “She loves her students and she would never do anything intentionally to hurt any of them.”
Cazayoux said late Friday that Chanel Lemelle, 31, had not yet surrendered to sheriff’s deputies. But they’re working to arrange a meeting with authorities.
“She has faith in the legal system,” Cazayoux said.
A sheriff’s deputy who reviewed camera footage of the incident wrote in a report that as the student walked by Chanel Lemelle in the cafeteria, she could be seen kicking him in the rear. The video also showed her slapping the boy on the back of the head, the deputy wrote.
A witness told deputies that Chanel Lemelle was “yelling at one student in particular in a loud and degrading manner because he was not walking like he was supposed to,” the deputy wrote in the report.
Witnesses told the investigator that Chanel Lemelle forced the student to sit at a lunch table by himself while his classmates went through the food line in the cafeteria. After all his classmates got food, Chanel Lemelle allowed the student to get food, the witnesses said.
But when the student returned, Chanel Lemelle allegedly took one of his tacos and told the student “he only needed one taco,” a deputy wrote in the report.
The witnesses told the deputy that Chanel Lemelle often brought an empty plate to lunch and filled it with food from her students. One of the witnesses also told a deputy that she saw Chanel Lemelle yelling at the same student as he was crying against a wall in a hallway about a week earlier.
The witness said she didn’t see Chanel Lemelle hit the student, but she did see the teacher “waving a stick at him,” the report says.
In an interview with Child Advocacy Services representatives, the child recounted the same story told by the witnesses and captured in the video footage, the report says.
Hollis Milton, superintendent of the West Feliciana Parish school district, said Chanel Lemelle “agreed to resign” amid the investigation into the allegations she faced.
The superintendent said a new teacher will replace Chanel Lemelle in her classroom on Monday.
Milton said the allegations should not overshadow “the positive, warm culture that children experience every day” at the school, while also stressing the seriousness of the accusations.
“The majority of our folks do just a tremendous job for our kids,” Milton said. “At the end of the day, it’s still a wonderful school.”
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.