Nadia Lopez, the former Brownsville principal who went viral after a student praised her on Humans of New York as the most influential person in her life – and people donated nearly 1.4million dollars for her “academics” to visit Harvard – naturally could get VIP treatment when returning to the school she founded.
Instead, narrow-minded city educators treated her like a prowler when she visited the school on April 13.
“I was told that my presence created tension. I was literally told I shouldn’t come back,” a stunned Lopez said in cellphone video moments after leaving Mott Hall Bridges Academy.
She is now under investigation by the DOE for “unauthorized” visits, taking photos of students without permission and posting images on her Instagram page, officials said.
“I can’t even express how hurtful it is,” Lopez told the Post.
She said she had never been accused of misconduct and wanted nothing more than to raise the college 6-8 and its 204 students, 98% of whom were black and low-income Hispanic. “I got into it.”
After 10 years as principal, Lopez resigned from the school in 2021 to battle autoimmune kidney disease, which doctors attributed to work-related stress – 12-14 hour days and what she called a lack of DOE support.
But she stayed in touch with her colleagues and graduates from Mott Hall Bridges – who call the school a second family – while gaining a reputation as a motivational speaker, consultant and leadership coach. She recently started a podcast, Detention, which deals with public education issues.
The dispute with the DOE brass erupted when Lopez was filmed near Mott Hall Bridges for a documentary about empowering black girls, starring Laquana Lane, a former student who survived cancer at 16.
Laquana wanted to visit a beloved teacher, Mrs. Graham. So the two walked into the school – and checked in with the security guard.
Laquana, now 21, kissed and talked with her sixth grade teacher, as Lopez stood by.
They also told Acting Director Laura Onwuka about Laquana’s trip to Ghana, which Lopez helped organize through a nonprofit run by a model and activist she mentored. “It was a good conversation,” recalls Laquana.
But as they walked out, District 23 Superintendent Miatheresa Pate and her deputy, Josephine Van-Ess, approached. Within earshot of Laquana, Pate told Lopez she was not welcome to return to school.
“I was shocked,” Laquana said. “I felt bad for Mrs Lopez, knowing that she was not allowed to return to the school she built. It was quite sad.
According to insiders, the friction began during a previous surprise visit in March. Lopez sat down with Onwuka for almost an hour, sharing the school’s history and best practices. She also gave her successor a bag with a candle, a mug, a can of tea, a diary and a signed copy of her book.
She also handed out mini-packets for teachers with Lifesavers and other candies, tissue packets and flower seeds” – “because you are planting seeds in (students’) lives”.
But later she ruffled feathers by sending faculty members an email titled “Thanks to the team” that criticized the school’s management.
“It is abundantly clear that the current climate and culture does not represent the expectations I have set for our academics or the staff at our beloved school,” she wrote. “Those currently appointed to the post of [Mott Hall Bridges] DOE leadership, have no idea what it means to be part of something that was created to challenge mediocrity and the status quo.
Lopez said teachers told her about low staff morale.
During that visit, Lopez also chatted with students, reminding some who wandered the halls to return to class. She filmed a short video and took photos of students working, posting several images to her Instagram page.
“It’s something I’ve always done to celebrate the children of Brownsville in a world that didn’t expect much from them,” she said.
The Special Investigative Commissioner for City Schools confirmed Friday that the school has filed a complaint against Lopez. SCI said it referred the complaint to the DOE’s Office of Special Investigations. A DOE spokesperson said the agency would not comment.
The DOE slap comes despite Lopez widely acclaiming a public school in a poor and violence-ridden neighborhood. Lopez and Vidal Chastanet, the eighth-grader who spoke to Humans of New York, appeared on television with Robin Roberts and Ellen DeGeneres.
President Obama invited Lopez and Vidal to visit him in the Oval Office. Lopez then received a “Black Girls Rock” award at an event featuring Michelle Obama.
Lopez gave a “TED Talk,” a popular online lecture, about his management style and his mantra: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison,” as Victor Hugo said.
For four years, Lopez used donations to take sixth- through eighth-graders to Harvard — to let them know they belonged to the most prestigious institutions — as well as Yale, St. Francis College, LaGuardia Community College and historically black colleges.
She wrote a book, “The Bridge to Brilliance; How a director in a tough community inspires the world.