Principal refuses special ed student slot in spelling bee


NEW YORK – A Brooklyn principal refused to allow a special education student to compete in a districtwide spelling bee because he wasn’t smart enough, the student and teachers charged Wednesday.

“She said, “You don’t have the brains to do it. You’re gonna go to the first round and get eliminated and make the school look bad,”‘ said 13-year-old Lamarre St. Phard.

Lamarre, an eighth-grader at Intermediate School 252, beat out 12 students in his class to advance to a schoolwide bee last month, his teachers said.

When no other classes held spelling bees, Lamarre was given a laminated certificate naming him “school champion.” But he didn’t get to enjoy the honor for long.

Later that day, Principal Mendis Brown allegedly took him into her office and told him she didn’t want to send a special education student to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“I felt embarrassed. The door was open and other people heard it, too,” said Lamarre, who has behavioral problems.

The principal then organized a schoolwide spelling bee and Lamarre was eliminated, according to teachers who said a general education student was declared the winner.

When the winning student and the first runner-up got cold feet and declined to compete in the next round, Brown allegedly refused to allow the second runner-up – another special education student – to advance.

“I’m disgusted and really broken,” said a teacher at the school. “We try so hard to help these kids, to tell a special ed kid that he can’t go on because he’s a special ed kid is unbelievable.”

But Brown denied through a spokeswoman that her decisions had anything to do with whether the student was in special education classes.

The spokeswoman said Brown wanted to have a legitimate schoolwide competition and when the winner and a runner-up bowed out, she decided that no students would represent the school at the districtwide bee.

Lamarre, who wants to go to culinary school, said he thinks he would have done his school proud.

“I’m gonna keep studying to show her that special ed students can participate and I’m gonna stand up for special ed students,” he said. “That really hurts, to tell someone they don’t have brains because they’re special ed.”

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AP-NY-01-10-07 2100EST