Cynthia AmbroseLast May, in San Antonio, Texas, 6-year-old Aiden Neely hit a classmate and was "showing signs of being a bully" in Barbara Ramirez's kindergarten class. Ramirez was exasperated and not sure what to do so she sought advice from fellow teacher, Cynthia Ambrose, 44. Her recommendation: Let the other kids hit him so he knows how it feels to be bullied. Ambrose and the other teacher lined up the 24 kindergartners in her Salinas Elementary School classroom then told them to hit Neely.
According to Ramirez, Ambrose encouraged the kindergartners to hit Neely as hard as they could. The children obeyed -- even those who didn't want to, because they were afraid of getting in trouble.
Ramirez said Ambrose told the class to stop after the seventh student hit Neely very hard with an open hand to the back and made him cry.
This sounds like a perfectly acceptable way to deal with a 6-year-old bully right?
The jury didn't think so either.
On Thursday, a jury convicted Cynthia Ambrose of "official oppression" (a felony in Texas that amounts to a public servant who misuses their position) and she faces up to 1 year in jail. (She was fired from her job last year.) It took the jury only 45 minutes to reach a guilty verdict.
The prosecutor in the case said:
This is not a spanking case. It is so far outside the bounds of classroom discipline to where it becomes criminal.
It turns out this was not an isolated incident -- two weeks after the hitting incident, Ramirez says she saw Ambrose tell another student to pinch a bully for pinching him. That's when Ramirez reported both incidents to the school principal Jeffrey Large.
I've never heard of anything like this in my 30 years. I've heard of teachers using excessive force, but never putting students against other students.
Ramirez was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony, yet not everyone is convinced of her innocence. Ambrose's attorney called Ramirez a "pathological liar" and said she was smiling throughout the hitting incident and was taunting poor Aiden Neely.
Ambrose, who worked at the school for 11 years and says she loved kids, described the incident as "out of her control," saying the students surrounded Aiden on their own and one, a girl, slapped him on his back.
As for Aiden, now 7, he said on the stand that he remembers getting hit by his classmates and telling his brothers, who didn't believe him.
Amy Neely, Aiden's mom, wasn't informed of the incident until the principal called her weeks later.
The teacher told him not to tell us. My stomach was in knots. It was horrible. Twenty-four of those kids hit him and he said that most of them hit him twice.
Ambrose's sentencing is scheduled for the end of July.
Here is an interview with Ambrose from last year:
Does watching the video make you feel any sympathy for Ambrose?
Do you think 1 year in jail is adequate punishment for this teacher? Should she get more or less? Do you think Ramirez deserved to be punished too?
Image via ABC News