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Tuesday, June 11, 2024 | Back issues
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Conviction Reinstated for Kindergarten Brawl

(CN) - A kindergarten teacher who allowed several students to hit their classmate should not have been granted a new trial, a Texas appeals court ruled.

The Jan. 7 ruling stems from a charge of official oppression against Cynthia Ambrose in December 2012 at Salinas Elementary School in the Judson school district.

Fellow kindergarten teacher Barbara Ramirez testified against Ambrose, saying the incident erupted after one of her students, A.N., hit another child in the back during class in early May.

Ramirez walked A.N. into Ambrose's class as part the school's "buddy system," which attempts to correct a child's behavioral problems to avoid sending the student to the principal's office, thus minimizing the loss of instructional time.

She said Ambrose asked A.N. why he was bullying other students. When he didn't respond, Ambrose said, "Come on, boys and girls, let's line up and let's bully (A.N.)," according to Ramirez's testimony, as quoted in the opinion.

Ramirez testified that the first few students rubbed or patted A.N. on the back until Ambrose said, "Well, let's hit him harder."

She said about seven students hit A.N. before he returned to her classroom. According to Ramirez's testimony, Ambrose told the last student, "Okay, that's too hard, not that hard."

Ramirez reported this incident, as well as another one in which she heard Ambrose instruct a child to pinch a fellow student.

Principal Jeffrey Large testified that he investigated Ramirez's report and that Ambrose admitted her actions.

"She said that I believe two or three students hit the student and then a fourth student hit too hard and then she stopped it immediately after that," Large said, according to the ruling.

A.N. was 7 years old when he testified about the incident. He said he did not know the difference between the truth and a lie, and did not know when his birthday was.

When asked how many students hit him, A.N. replied, "I think like 21."

Ambrose testified that only one student hit A.N. after she asked the class, "Does anyone want to show him what it feels like?"

A jury in Bexar County found Ambrose guilty.

Facing a suspended sentence of one year, plus community supervision, Ambrose asked for a new trial, arguing that the jury should have been given an accomplice-witness jury instruction.

The trial court agreed, finding that Ambrose was egregiously harmed by the lack of the instruction.

A three-judge panel for the 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio reversed last week.

"The jury returned a guilty verdict after only a 42-minute recess," Justice Luz Elena Chapa wrote for the court. "Thus, the evidence and other parts of the record support that the state's case would not have been rendered clearly and significantly less persuasive had the jury been instructed on the accomplice-witness rule."

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