Concealed tape recorder seems to confirm kindergarten teacher was 'mean'

By Mark Schnyder

NEW ALBANY, Ind. (WAVE) - A kindergarten teacher from New Albany has been suspended after she was apparently caught on tape berating a 5-year-old student for several minutes in front of the class. The boy's parents sent him to school one day in April with the tape recorder in his pocket after the boy complained for months that his teacher was mean to him.

When they got the tape back, Gabriel Ross's parents were shocked when they heard S. Ellen Jones Elementary teacher Kristen Woodward apparently calling Gabriel Ross "pathetic." Now Woodward is suspended with pay and the boy's family is looking to find him another school.

According to school records, 5-year-old Gabriel doesn't appear to be a model kindergarten student. His daily behavior folder he and his parents showed us is filled with phrases like: "refused to listen," "talked nonstop interrupting the teachers," "terrible day" and "talked nonstop today."

But Gabriel's mother and stepdad say the teacher's response wasn't discipline, it was downright cruelty.

Gabriel's parents say the voice on the tape is Kristen Woodward bad-mouthing Gabriel for several minutes. Among other things, she says: "You've punished everyone in this building with your behavior. Everyone has been affected by your nasty behavior. Everyone. Cafeteria workers, the monitors, the art teacher, music teacher ... ten people in this building you have tormented and tortured for 149 days. I'm done."

At another point she says: "You've been ignorant, selfish, self-absorbed, the whole thing. I'm done..."

Then Ms. Woodward addresses the class: "He has made every wrong choice possible and he has had more help to make right choices and he has chose not to. So you guys think, is that somebody you want to be with?"

"Noooo," says the kindergarten class in unison.

"See, your friend doesn't want to be with you," said Woodward.

Gabriel's mother can't believe a teacher said these things to her son.

"When you treat a child like they're bad, they're going to be bad," said Tabitha McMahan, tearing up.

McMahan, who also attended this S. Ellen Jones Elementary School when she was growing up, took Gabriel out of the school the day after she heard the recording on April 15th. And he hasn't been back.

"That a 5-year-old kid would have to go through something like he did. That's not right," said McMahan. "Even if it was a 16-year old kid, I would still be this upset."

The New Albany-Floyd County school system won't comment on personnel matters. They did confirm they're investigating allegations of serious employee misconduct and that Kristen Woodward's on paid administrative leave.

"I pat myself on the back lightly," said Gabriel's stepdad, J.R. Edwards.

Edwards says that recorder he got his son to carry in his pants pocket one day was a smart investment. Now he hopes to get someone smart to help his son's psyche.

"We seriously need to find somebody to talk with Gabriel to see if he's alright, because this experience for 149 days - as far as I'm concerned that's how long it went on."

The Indiana State Teachers Association is standing up for Woodward, who has taught for 13 years. They say the school system went too far with the suspension and didn't give Woodward a fair chance to give her side of the story.

Online Reporter:  Mark Schnyder

Online Producer: Charles Gazaway