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When talk-show host Oprah Winfrey handed a $1 million check last September to the principal of New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy, 200 students watched the broadcast from a church and celebrated with a brass band.

Lawrence Melrose, a ninth-grader with learning and emotional disabilities, sat next door in a school office. The staff was concerned his fighting and cursing could be an embarrassment, said Shelton Joseph, his great uncle. Because he has trouble communicating, Lawrence needed intensive counseling and speech therapy, which the school didn’t provide, Joseph said. He was repeatedly suspended and told he couldn’t take the school bus with other kids, according to his lawyer.

The education of 16-year-old Lawrence represents a common complaint about privately run, taxpayer-financed charter schools: They often exclude children with serious disabilities or deny them the help they need, violating federal laws.

“They left me,” Joseph recalled the boy telling him on the day of the Winfrey celebration. “They left me out.”

Along with the academy supported by Oprah’s Angel Network, which she uses to raise money, New Orleans charter schools accused of discrimination include those that are favored charities of Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, Wal-Mart Stores’ Walton family and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Under federal law, all public schools — including charters — must educate students with disabilities. The requirement strains even the best-financed school systems, which are under pressure to accommodate special-needs students due to court decisions even as they face budget cuts.

Last October, 10 families, including Lawrence’s, filed a federal special-education discrimination suit against the state of Louisiana. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights group represents the families.

Lawrence Melrose’s great uncle, Joseph, 57, lives in New Orleans’ hurricane-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward. Unemployed and recovering from a heart attack and stroke, he became guardian four years ago after the child’s grandmother died.

A lanky teenager who dreams of joining the Army, Lawrence Melrose reads and does math at roughly the third-grade level. Along with attention deficit disorder, he has language-related disabilities that make his speech difficult to understand.

In a 2009 evaluation at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, doctors said Lawrence Melrose could become “a productive member of society.” They said his fighting resulted from frustration at his difficulty in communicating, and recommended special- education services “at the highest level possible,” including speech therapy, tailored assignments and extended time on tests.

Rather than provide all the services he needed, the charter school excluded him by suspending him repeatedly and keeping him from going to the Oprah celebration, according to the lawsuit.

“He needed a place that would work with him as an individual,” Joseph said. “What they gave him was the opportunity to get out.”

Lawrence and some other students didn’t attend the ceremony to protect children’s safety, Benjamin Marcovitz, the school’s founder and principal, said.

“Lawrence is a pretty beloved member of our school community” and returned to school this year, Marcovitz said. After the lawsuit was filed and repeated meetings with the family, the school shifted its approach last December, providing the mentor, speech therapy and instituting a plan that rewarded him for good behavior, according to Eden Heilman, a Southern Poverty Law Center senior staff attorney.

Angela De Paul, an Oprah Winfrey spokeswoman, declined to comment.