2007-01-18 / Front Page


By Neil S. Friedman

Student Lamarre St. Phard
Student Lamarre St. Phard An I.S. 252 special education student, who thought he had qualified to represent his school in next month's regional spelling bee, knows how to spell "respect," but last week he claimed his principal doesn't know the meaning of the word.

The confusion apparently began after 13-year-old Lamarre St. Phard won his class spelling bee and received a "school champion" certificate from the Lenox Road middle school's librarian acknowledging the accomplishment, although no other class had held a competition. Upon receiving the document St. Phard prematurely thought he earned the right to represent the school in the February 1 regional contest.

Nevertheless, St. Phard said that the principal told him he would not be allowed to represent the school because "you don't have the brains to do it and you'll get eliminated in the first round and make the school look bad."

St. Phard, who was supported by a few students, said he was hurt and ashamed by Brown's remarks. In a WABC-TV Channel 7 interview another special ed student, Katherine Cruz, verified her classmate's claim adding that she overheard the principal tell him he was "retarded and slow."

I.S. 252 Principal Mendis Brown
I.S. 252 Principal Mendis Brown However, after meeting with principal Mendis Brown last Thursday, Region 6 officials denied the allegations.

Regional superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard told the media, "There was no malicious intent. This was a huge misunderstanding."

Brizard further defended Brown stating she has a record of supporting students with special needs and that type of contempt is…"not in her profile."

Department of Education spokes-person Margie Feinberg told the Courier last Friday, "Region officials are still looking into the matter."

Region 6 spelling bee coordinator Valerie Edwards said that she is un-aware that any special education student had been a past entrant. She said schools are supposed to send representatives to the annual competition based upon their qualifications in schoolwide spelling bees not the student's educational standing.

At least one special education student represented a local school in the regional spelling bee several years ago, according to a District 18 education official, who requested anonymi-ty.

A disappointed Lamarre, who said he wants to go to culinary school to study to be a cook, believed he would have done well in the competition and made his school proud, but he will not be in I.S. 252's final round that will decide the two entrants. He is, however, rooting for another special education student, Christian Cartagena, who was scheduled to compete in this week's runoff when she moved up to third place in the schoolwide spelling bee after other spellers reportedly dropped out due to nerves.

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