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Monday, August 8, 2022

Crime and Stupidity in Lower Education

Maria Caya

     At nine in the morning on June 6, 2013, 120 fourth and fifth graders, on an end-of-the-year field trip, descended upon a bowling alley in Janesville, Wisconsin. The students and their teacher chaperons from Washington Elementary School took over River's Edge Bowl that morning.

     By 10:45 AM it became obvious that something was wrong with Maria Caya, one of the supervising adults. The 50-year-old teacher was acting so strange someone called her husband Steve to come and take her away. Steve picked up his wife at noon and drove her to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center. Medical personnel determined that Caya's blood-alcohol level was at 0.27 percent, far higher than the state's driving under the influence law. The teacher admitted having consumed a bloody Mary that morning at six o'clock along with Ativan, a pill she took for anxiety. (One bloody Mary will not raise one's alcohol-blood percentage to 0.27.)

     On July 9, 2013, the school board unanimously voted to give Caya, upon her resignation from the school, a lump sum settlement of $18,452. The teacher took the money and resigned. In defending the payout, the school superintendent said that if they had fired the drunken teacher, and she had fought the dismissal, the legal costs would have exceeded the kiss-off money. Moreover, there was a chance Caya would have won reinstatement. School officers wanted this woman out of teaching, and this was the cheapest and most surefire way to accomplish that goal. (Of course there was nothing to stop Caya from applying for a job at another school district.)

Cynthia Ambrose

     On May 2, 2012, in Salinas Texas, Salinas Elementary School teacher Barbara Ramirez took 6-year-old Aiden Neely to kindergarten teacher Cynthia Ambrose. The boy was in trouble because he had hit another student.

     With Barbara Ramirez looking on, Cynthia Ambrose told her class of twenty students to form a line, and as each student passed by the pint-sized bully, to hit him. When the first kid gave Neely a light pat, the 44-year-old Ambrose said, "Come on, hit him harder." The exercise came to a stop when the seventh kid in line hit Neely so hard in the back the boy started to cry. To the crying kid, Ambrose said, "See, that's how it feels to be bullied." 

     Barbara Ramirez, perhaps to keep a fellow teacher out of trouble, did not report the incident to school authorities until sometime later when she overheard Ambrose telling a kid who had been pinched to pinch the other kid back. Ramirez, for not immediately reporting the bullying exercise, was placed on three days leave. She also received a letter of reprimand.

     Bexar County prosecutor Patrick Ballantyne charged Cynthia Ambrose with the misdemeanor offense of official oppression. At her arraignment Ambrose pleaded not guilty.

     At Ambrose's trial, held in June 2013, Aiden Neely and Barbara Ramirez testified for the prosecution. The defendant took the stand on her own behalf. In presenting their closing arguments to the jury, the prosecutor referred to the teacher's behavior as child abuse. The defense attorney portrayed it as a well-intentioned classroom exercise that had gotten a little out of hand. The jury found Ambrose guilty as charged.

     In August 2013, district judge Sid Harle, before imposing his sentence, said, "[You are] absolutely a parent's worst nightmare. They send their children and entrust you with them." Judge Harle sentenced the former teacher to 30 days in jail, but said she could either serve her time on work release or spend weekends behind bars. The judge also placed Ambrose on probation for two years.

     Ambrose's criminal conviction did not end her teaching career. The Texas Education Agency suspended her for one year.

Malia Brooks

     Malia Brooks, a married mother of two, taught sixth grade at the Garden Grove Elementary School in Simi Valley, a suburban community north of Los Angeles. In November 2012 Brooks began a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old male student. The affair lasted four months.

     In February 2013, following an investigation by the Simi Valley Police Department, a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Malia Brooks with one count of lewd act with a child, one count of oral copulation with a person under 14 and one count of genital penetration by a foreign object with a person under 14. Following her arrest the teacher was incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail on $2 million bond.

     In June 2013, Malia Brooks resigned from teaching and pleaded guilty to all three charges. At her sentencing hearing in August, Brook's attorney told the judge that his client had suffered a "manic episode" that had been brought on by her own teenage sexual abuse. The judge sentenced the former teacher to six years in prison.

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