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Principal Bullies Kindergartner Suffering With OCD For Not Wearing Her Uniform

Principal Bullies Kindergartner Suffering With OCD For Not Wearing Her Uniform

Queens, New York resident Rosemary Powell enrolled her 5-year-old daughter into Public School 290 in September 2011. Launched in 2010, PS 290 Academy for Scholars was a welcome relief from the overcrowded Maspeth neighborhood schools.  On the first day, Principal Mieasa Harris informed parents that students would be required to wear a uniform of khaki pants/bottoms and a green shirt. The uniform requirement ended up being difficult for Ms. Powell’s daughter to follow.

Ms. Powell’s daughter suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, having been diagnosed at the age of two. Onset of OCD usually occurs in teens and adults, but a small percentage of children do manifest systems. The medical disorder causes repetitive, unpleasant thoughts (obsessions) or behaviors (compulsions) that are difficult to control. In the case of H.H., Ms. Powell’s daughter, the wearing of certain clothing can cause her great discomfort at times and makes her unable to wear them. This is a common manifestation of OCD, where certain clothing or materials feel uncomfortable and feel restrictive.

When she refused to wear the clothing, Ms. Powell attempted to have H.H. wear similar clothing in terms of colors, but more often than not, H.H. would not wear the uniform. Principal Harris would then single out H.H., pulled her out of class, and reprimanded her for not wearing her uniform. She would even meet the girl at the bus in the morning and ask her in front of other students why she was not in uniform.

Ms. Powell requested  a meeting with Principal Harris when her daughter repeatedly came home crying after being yelled at by the principal. Harris demanded that Ms. Powell bring H.H. to the meeting. It was at that time Ms. Powell explained her daughter’s disability and requested that if she had issues with her daughter not wearing the uniform to please speak with her instead of publicly humiliating her daughter.  Principal Harris reportedly responded, “If you would make your daughter wear her uniform, we would not need this meeting.”

One thing Principal Harris did not do was inform Ms. Powell that she had the right to opt out of her daughter wearing the uniform. The school had a form with which they would request an exemption from the uniform requirement. When Ms. Powell returned with medical documentation of her daughter’s disability, Principal Harris still refused to accommodate H.H. and told Ms. Powell that if her daughter did not wear the uniform, she would have to transfer to a more appropriate school.

The following year, Ms. Powell H.H. participated in the Girl Scouts troupe at the school. The Girls Scouts were willing to work with her regarding H.H.’s OCD and did not require her to wear the uniform. Principal Harris, however, banned H.H. from participating in the Girl Scouts, claiming that since she had worn her uniform less than ten times in the previous school year, she would not be allowed to participate in the program.  When the CEO of Girl Scouts of America wrote a letter to Principal Harris disagreeing with her decision to remove H.H. from the program, Harris canceled the Girl Scouts program for the entire school. This caused further problems for H.H., as all of the families knew why the program had been canceled.

In a lawsuit filed this month in Brooklyn, Ms. Powell claims that after all of this, Principal Harris concealed the fact that she had an option to opt out of the uniform and continued to berate her daughter, often times shaking her finger in the young girl’s face, telling her “You better wear your uniform tomorrow.”

Ms. Powell’s suit seeks an injunction and unspecified monetary damages for discrimination, violations of her daughter’s civil rights, and violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires reasonable accommodation in all public institutions for persons with disabilities.

Ms. Powell also filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s office of civil rights which ruled after an investigation that Principal Harris exceeded her authority by removing H.H. from the girl scouts.

There has been no response yet from the school.

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209 comments

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2:52AM PDT on Oct 28, 2014

This principal is in the wrong job. She sounds more like a sergeant in the army! She has absolutely no business being around kids!!

2:11PM PDT on Apr 11, 2014

The principal is a bitter person. I have OCD and I can only imagine the anxiety this poor girl suffered.

3:57AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

Thats harrasment and it's never okay. This girl is not just being a brat she has a illness , the mom should of hired a lawyer . In populated areas such as New York it can be hard to find schools that don't require a uniform but im sure other schools will be much more willing to compromise.

3:48AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

while this is a real thing Im not sure it's only ocd though seems like the girl might have some sensory procesing disorder (please look it up) , I know how she feels as a child it was big tantrums every morning .
as for the principal shame on you , your suposed to be the adult.

10:09AM PST on Jan 2, 2014

This could of all been avoided if the Principal allowed the parent to sign their "opt out" of uniform form that was existing. Obviously this was more about "control" from the little Power place that the Principal found herself in.

I hope this unreasonable Principal is let go from her job, issues and apology, and that the family never has to go through something like this again. Good for the Girl Scouts for standing on the correct side of the issue.

I signed Petition that Jennifer mentions below. Please consider also adding your name.
PS 290 Superintendent to Make Your Principal go To Compassion Conseling

10:57PM PST on Jan 1, 2014

The solution is simple: fire the principal and get of uniforms. I would never send my (future) to a school with uniforms or a strict dress code.

8:59AM PST on Jan 1, 2014

This principal is a bully. If she was willing to act sensibly, she and the parent could have come to a compromise.

3:32AM PST on Jan 1, 2014

To me this whole issue is about the Principal wanting to be obeyed "You'll do as I say" .
she's "the boss" after all, isn't it sad that a vulnerable child has to be the victim?
Maybe a change of career, Principal Harris?

1:03AM PST on Jan 1, 2014

This is Vivian Ocampo again. Just a follow up on my previous comment. I mentioned ADHA; it should have been ADHD. Sorry!

1:01AM PST on Jan 1, 2014

Principal Harris should be transferred to a reform school or school for juvenile delinquents. Yes, she is strict, fearless and adheres to rules - just what rowdy, undisciplined delinquents need. But Harris has no place in a civilized, humane, righteous world. She does more damage than good. The school should kick her out! I am also a grade school teacher and we do have students with OCD, ADHA, even autism, and , with patience, understanding, some individualized strategies, we have been successful with these children. They are able to finish their elementary level...what's more, they develop self-worth!

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