Former kindergarten teacher Cynthia Ambrose was sentenced to 30 days in jail on Tuesday after being convicted of instructing students to beat a six-year-old boy.
Ambrose, 44, told children at Salinas Elementary School to show a bullying classmate "how it feels to be bullied," directing them to line up and take turns hitting the boy. After the jury found her guilty in June of official opression, a misdemeanor, she faced up to one year in jail, but received a much lighter sentence.
Along with a month of incarceration, Ambrose received two years of probation, the maximum time allowed for her crime. At the sentencing hearing, the former teacher broke down into tears when officials placed her in handcuffs.
Patrick Ballantyne, prosecutor for the state, originally fought for a three-month sentence, but agreed to 30 days with the added probation. Stated Ballantyne, “This was not really a case about bullying as was portrayed in the media … this was really a case about child abuse.”
During her time on probation, Ambrose will be barred from teaching, and it is unclear whether any school district will hire her again after the conviction.
District Judge Sid Harle expressed concern over Ambrose’s behavior, stating “This is absolutely a parent's worst nightmare … they send their children ... and entrust you with them.”
The crime occurred in May 2012 when another teacher, Barbara Ramirez, brought the victim to Ambrose, telling her he had hit a fellow student. Ramirez recalled that after following instructions to strike the boy, students starting out with gentle pats until Ambrose said, “Come on, hit him harder.”
Ramirez struck a deal with officials, who granted her immunity from prosecution for testifying against Ambrose. Ambrose’s attorney, James Scott Sullivan, questioned the validity of Ramirez’s statements, and claimed that Ambrose was already branded as guilty by the media before the trial began.
The victim stated that after the incident, he told his brothers what had happened but they did not believe him. The school principal learned of the violence two weeks later, after Ramirez reportedly informed him.