Stephanie Cruel, possibly one of the school district's most outspoken parents, said she's been experiencing serious resistance from district officials since she began speaking out against a uniform policy at Northeast High School.
Cruel said the principal has barred her from coming onto school grounds without an appointment or police presence. Her daughter, Rae-Evelyn, can't wear the uniform for medical reasons, Cruel said, and she's been pulled out of classes most days since the policy began on Nov. 4.
To make matters worse, Cruel said, district officials have asked her not to talk about the policy anymore at parent roundtables, monthly forums with the superintendent that she regularly attends.
"They've taken away my power as a loving mother, my civil rights and they've deprived my daughter of her education, and [they're] doing a lot of mumbo jumbo," said Cruel, who also has said that the uniforms are too expensive and has accused the district of leaving parents in the dark.
District officials say that Cruel is being difficult and that they've tried accommodating her during several meetings by offering to buy her daughter five uniforms and a sweater.
Cruel rejected the offer, saying that she'll keep fighting until the policy is revised to include more options for clothing and for vendors where it can be purchased.
Advocates are outraged over what they say is a violation of Cruel's rights. During a protest at Frankford High yesterday, which Cruel attended, members of the local chapter of the National Action Network highlighted Rae-Evelyn's case as they called for an investigation into several issues in district schools.
Mary Catherine Roper, a lawyer with the ACLU, which agreed to look into Cruel's complaint, said Rae-Evelyn's absence from class is especially disheartening.
"Exclusion from school becomes a problem," she said. "Whether or not what's going on is an adequate substitution for not being in class, it's still an exclusion."
Rae-Evelyn, 16, has had two days of in-school suspension for violating the uniform policy, her mother said. Other days, she's been placed in the auditorium or a guidance counselor's office with instructional material, she said.
Cruel thinks that the principal, Linda Carroll, is punishing her daughter because Cruel has brought unwanted attention to the school at a time when it is in the spotlight.
She accused Carroll, who has been principal for three years, of suddenly enforcing a policy that went into effect districtwide nine years ago only because Tony Danza's reality show, "Teach," started filming at Northeast High in September.
Cruel added that some parents weren't notified of the policy until it was too late to do anything about it. District officials said that discussions about the uniform began in October 2008.
"[Rae-Evelyn] is aggravated," she said. "She's not getting her education. She likes interacting with the students. All this has taken a toll on her, all for a Tony Danza reality show."
Carroll has declined to speak about the show or uniform policy.
Another reason for her crusade, Cruel said, is to spare her daughter, a Northeast junior, from wearing the mandated white oxford blouse and khaki pants because of a heavy and irregular menstrual cycle that makes it difficult for her to wear light-colored clothes.
Cruel said that she's notified both school and district officials of her daughter's problem and even provided a doctor's note.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said: "[Cruel] informed the school and the district that her daughter has a medical condition and the condition prevents her from wearing the uniform."
But until officials can verify the note, he said, "Rae-Evelyn has to follow this uniform policy."
The district requested more information from Rae-Evelyn's doctor but is awaiting a response.
Since August, Cruel, who lives in North Philly, has written letters to several district officials and politicians, spoken before the School Reform Commission, gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition and held demonstrations outside of the school.
In a letter Cruel received on Nov. 9, Carroll wrote that Cruel is no longer permitted on school grounds or in the building without an appointment because her actions have fostered "a hostile and unsafe school environment."
Philly Police Capt. Michael McCarrick, who deploys officers to the school for arrival and dismissal, said he would uphold the order.
"There were minor issues that popped up," he said, claiming that she was grabbing students and blocking the entrance. "And her conduct at the school was deemed detrimental to the rest of the student body."
He added that if Cruel violated the school's requests, she'd be trespassing, which could lead to an arrest.
Cruel admits that she's been a thorn in the administrators' side, but said her actions have never endangered anyone.
Last Thursday, the district sent a letter prohibiting Cruel from speaking about the policy at the public forums for parents.
The ACLU's Roper said: "If this is a forum for parents to voice their concerns over issues, she can talk about anything."
Gallard said that the district had given her ample opportunity to voice her concerns and that she met privately with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and other district officials.
"We have provided her with assistance and opportunities to bring this situation to a close," he said. "She hasn't taken part."