A controversial ex-Brooklyn principal has sparked an uproar as head of a Long Island high school by detaining dozens of girls for alleged dress-code violations — telling one teen her pencil skirt was “distracting to male staff member”, New York Post reports
Principal Caterina Lafergola, who used to helm troubled Automotive High School in Greenpoint, pulled aside at least 75 students — nearly all girls — at Baldwin High School last week for short skirts, slits, exposed skin, and visible bra straps.
She even insisted that a Latina student corral her long mane. “Tell why this new principal yell at me because i had my hair out and it wasn’t tied back,” the teen posted on a new Facebook page protesting Lafergola’s war on “inappropriate” clothing.
Many call the principal’s push “sexist,” saying it reinforces the idea that “female bodies are inherently inappropriate.” After five years at Automotive HS — which had 98 percent boys — Lafergola left the floundering school in Mayor de Blasio’s multi-million dollar “Renewal” program to take the $175,000-a-year job in Baldwin.
Automotive staffers had branded Lafergola a bully. She once forced two black teachers she wanted to fire to sit in a former bathroom. Some Baldwin students and parents started an online petition calling her dress code crusade “aggressive and Draconian.”
“Students are still being stopped, cited, and reportedly shamed by Principal Caterina Lafergola for alleged infractions that are increasingly questionable if not ridiculous,” it states. Lafergola sent out an e-mail on Sept. 9 warning the school would strictly enforce the dress code last Monday to reflect “an expectation of excellence and pride in our school.”
As students entered the school, Lafergola stood guard. “She was waiting by the front door and she would point at you and say, ‘There’s something about your outfit that violates the dress code,’” said senior Bella Rouzier, 17. “Then a security guard would escort you into the main office.”
Rouzier wore jean shorts that day because the building lacked air-conditioning, she said. Lafergola spotted her fashionably torn shorts. “Her objection was not that they were too short but that my crotch was showing,” said Rouzier, who disputed the charge, showing rips on her outer thighs.
She went home to change — missing two and a half classes. Lafergola sent at least 35 students who didn’t have a change of clothes to her office to cover up. Officials downplayed the numbers, noting the school has close to 1,600 kids.
Lafergola told one teen wearing shorts to “act like a lady” and handed her a large T-shirt to cover her thighs, a student recalled. A 15-year-old in a a thin skirt was admonished by Lafergola: “You can’t wear that skirt — it’s distracting to the male staff members,” Rouzier said.
One girl left school to buy sweatpants at a nearby sporting goods store. At a PTA meeting two nights before, Lafergola drew “rousing applause” when she vowed to enforce the dress code, Baldwin school board member Joel Press told a packed meeting Wednesday night.
Students told The Post they knew only one boy cited for violations. “Some students have felt targeted,” said alumna Natalie Polanco, 22, whose brother attends the school. “The message you send is ‘My outfit affects boys.’”
Lafergola declined to comment.