A group of parents is petitioning District school administrators to remove the principal of Woodridge Elementary School, who they allege physically and verbally abuses the pupils and generally mismanages the operation of the school building.

On June 1, the parents met with school officials and circulated a petition asking for "the removal of Ruth Bannister." They met for two hours then with Deputy Superintendent Andrew Jenkins and Bannister's immediate supervisor, Barbara Jackson, area assistant superintendent of Region C, and on June 2 with school board member Bettye Benjamin.

"Our children have been through hell this year," Joyce Christian, a Woodridge parent who also works at the school as a teacher's aide, said at the first meeting. "There's no one there to watch out for the children."

The parents have complained that Bannister "slaps children," is verbally abusive and "cuts off the water fountain some days because she believes the children are too messy."

The group also complained that there was usually no disinfectant, soap or toilet paper at the school; some windows were nailed shut and doors chained; special-education pupils were allowed to hang off a second-story ledge; water was frequently cut off; and some toilets did not work. One parent said she was forced to put toilet paper in her son's pocket for him to carry to school each day since he told her there was never any in the bathrooms.

Bannister, speaking by phone from her office, denied all of the allegations and said: "Nobody has seen me slap anyone. I love children."

She said she has been a principal for 14 years and has worked in education for 31 years.

She said she believes in letting children talk their problems out and she tries to make them feel proud of themselves.

"I've had good evaluations from my supervisors," she said. "I enjoy my job. I'm doing what I want to do."

The Division of Safety and Security for the schools has begun investigating the allegations of the Woodridge parents.

Bannister has been principal for three years at Woodridge, a small school of 130 pupils from prekindergarten to sixth grade, located at Carlton Street and Central Avenue NE in a middle-class neighborhood off South Dakota Avenue.

Before her current assignment, she was principal of Wheatley Elementary, where some parents say they, too, complained of her behavior.

Bannister admitted that she ran into difficulties at Wheatley, but she said her problem was with a counselor there.

At the June 1 meeting, a disgruntled Renee Tyson, who has a daughter at Woodridge, asked the school administrators what was bothering most of the parents present: "If it's on the record somewhere that she was abusing children at Wheatley, why would she be sent elsewhere?"

But Jackson and Jenkins said they did not know why the principal was moved from Wheatley and they stressed that such transfers are not unusual. At the close of the meeting, Jackson told parents their allegations would be reviewed and analyzed "to make some determination as to what steps should be made to bring about a resolution to the situation."

Fifteen parents attended the meeting, which some complained was organized without ample notice. Jackson announced the meeting May 29 after two parents called her office with complaints about Bannister. Although some of the parents said they had written Jackson and other school officials previously with complaints about the principal, Jackson said last week's call was the first time she had heard complaints about Bannister.

There were some parents in the group who offered support for Bannister. "She's a very good principal," said Harriet Brevard, a grandparent. "I've been {at the school} and I've never seen anything {wrong}. She's a strict person, but she's a beautiful principal."

Yet Christian said parents began meeting about six months ago and the PTA appointed her, because she works as a teacher's aide, as the person to keep notes and monitor activities at the school.

She came to the meeting with a notebook and read from it, alleging that she had seen other teacher's aides hit children; had seen Bannister "pick a boy up, shake him and drop him to the ground"; and had seen the principal ask two little girls called to her office, " 'What kind of animal do you look and act like?' and when the children couldn't think of anything, Bannister said, 'a rat.'

"I watched the children sulk and poke out their lips," said Christian.

She said teacher's aides were instructed during tests "to guide {the children's} hands to the right answer. I even took a test for one little boy because he was so frustrated," said Christian.

"She doesn't do anything to build a child up, to make them blossom," said Penelope Davis, a former teacher's aide who has also had several children attend the school.

"Most trophies are kept in a closet. To my knowledge, the school doesn't even have patrols. I have seen her slap children."