May 27, 2008 — -- Ignorant. Pathetic. Self-absorbed.
Those are some of the harsh names an Indiana kindergarten teacher called one of her students, and the boy's parents captured it all on tape.
Five-year-old Gabriel Ross complained over the school year that his teacher, Kristen Woodward, was being mean to him, said his mother Tabitha McMahan and stepfather J.R. Edwards. Gabriel told them other kids didn't like him because he was "bad and stupid."
When he began acting out at home, they decided to take action and try to find out what was going on in the classroom. So in mid-April, McMahan and Edwards sent Gabriel to school with a tape recorder in the pocket of his cargo pants.
What they heard over four hours of tape shocked them. Woodward can be heard telling Gabriel that he had "tortured and tormented" her and other teachers all year.
"I've been more than nice to you all year long and you've been ignorant, selfish, self-absorbed, the whole thing! I'm done!" Woodward says to Gabriel on the tape.
She continues: "Something needs to be done because you are pathetic! If me saying these words to you hurt, I hope it does because you're hurting everyone else around you."
Gabriel can be heard crying on the tape.
"You think it's bad when you see it on paper, but when you are hearing the way she says it to him. I can't even talk about it," McMahan told ABC affiliate WHAS, breaking into tears.
Edwards said that the worst part of the tape was when Woodward singled Gabriel out in front of the whole class.
"So you guys think, is that somebody you want to be with?" Woodward asks the class.
In unison, the other students reply, "Noooo."
"See, your friend doesn't want to be with you. I don't know what else to tell you. So you're not going to have friends because of your actions."
After 13 years of teaching, Woodward has been suspended indefinitely, according to the Indiana State Teachers Association.
The teachers' association is defending Woodward, saying that she "lost her cool" that day and hasn't had a chance to tell her side of the story.
Carol Mooney, a spokeswoman with the Indiana State Teachers Association, told the New Albany News and Tribune newspaper that Woodward is well liked by co-workers, parents and students and that she had trouble with Gabriel all year.
"What do you say to a kid who's rolling around, punching, biting, kicking? What can a teacher do?" Mooney said to the newspaper.
Woodward did not respond to phone messages from ABC News.
The New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. issued a statement saying, "Privacy issues and policy prohibit school officials from discussing ongoing investigations of employee misconduct."
Gabriel's stepfather, J.R. Edwards, told ABCNEWS.com that all the children in the class are given weekly progress reports and have frequent meetings with the teacher. He said Gabriel's reports had both "smiley faces" for good behavior and "frown faces," which indicates the student needs help in a certain area.
Gabriel's reports said he was sometimes "disruptive" and didn't keep his hands to himself.
Two weeks into the school year, Edwards said Woodward talked about setting up a "behavioral plan" for Gabriel, but when he approached Woodward to discuss the plan, she allegedly said, "I don't have time for this."
Edwards also said that Gabriel's behavior at home didn't make them think he was acting up at school.
"He's not perfect, but he's not out of control," Edwards said.
After hearing the tape, Edwards and McMahan pulled Gabriel out of school and are trying to figure out which school to send him to next year.
They are also exploring the possibility of pursuing a civil or criminal action against Woodward and the school district.
But Edwards said they are most concerned about the psychological impact the entire situation has had on Gabriel.
"I hope this doesn't affect him long-term, in his feelings about school or teachers," Edwards said. "We're going to seek some kind of help for him."