A Santa Fe first-grade teacher is entangled in controversy following reports by police and school officials that she washed students’ hair in the classroom sink because their hair was too fragrant for her sensitive nose.
As a result, Maria Bernardez, who teaches at Nina Otero Community School, has been placed on administrative leave by Santa Fe Public Schools.
“The children told [Principal Pamela Hyde] that Ms. Bernardez would walk up behind them, put her nose into their hair and smell it,” a police report states. “If their hair had a strong fragrance smell, Ms. Bernardez would take the children to the sink in the classroom and wash their hair with an odorless shampoo.”
The students told Hyde “the water was cold and it scared them, but that it did not hurt while she was washing their hair,” the report states.
Bernardez denied any wrongdoing, telling The New Mexican she didn’t wash the students’ hair, nor put students through a smell test. She said some students washed their hair on their own after recess.
According to the police report, Bernardez had a “health note” stating she had an allergy to certain fragrances.
The controversy came to light Tuesday after the parent of a 6-year-old told Hyde that Bernardez, 49, had washed her son’s hair in the classroom.
“Ms. Hyde told me that once she was made aware of the incident, she went to Ms. Bernardez’s classroom and confronted her about it and told her that what she was doing needed to cease immediately,” the report states.
The school knew about Bernardez’s allergies, but Bernardez didn’t have permission to confront or question anyone about their fragrances, police said.