Fired for word 'negro': Bronx teacher claims misunderstanding, not racial slur

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY,  |  May 24, 2013 at 12:59 PM
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A Bronx teacher fired after a student complained about her use of a racial slur says the whole thing is just a ridiculous case of meaning lost -- literally -- in translation.

Petrona Smith, 65, was a non-tenured teacher at the bilingual school PS 211 until March 2012, when she was fired after a student complained of being called "negro" and "a failure."

But Smith, who is black and a native of the West Indies, said the student misunderstood her meaning: she was using the word "negro," the word for the color black in Spanish, not an outmoded reference to an person of African descent.

“They haven’t even accounted for how absurd it is for someone who’s black to be using a racial slur to a student,” Shaun Reid, Smith’s attorney, told the New York Post. “Talk about context! There’s a lot of things wrong here.”

In court papers, Smith said she was teaching students how to say different colors, and even explained that the a black person in Spanish is called "moreno," not "negro." She also said she asked students who had failed a test to move to the back of the class, but had never called them failures.

Smith detailed the abuse she claims she often suffered at the hands of her students, who, according to her claims filed in court, called her "f***ing monkey," "cockroach" and "n****r." Smith said she had always risen above their insults.

The investigation leading to her termination relied on the word of four 7th-grade students, even though one of the student's parents admitted he had lied.

Smith, who has been unable to to find work since she was fired, has sued for wrongful termination. The school district has so far refused to comment on the case.

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