Was she casting spells or teaching spelling?

In an unfolding trial, lawyers are debating a former teacher's claims in a $2 million federal lawsuit that she was improperly fired from Hampton Bays elementary school because administrators and others thought she was a witch.

Lauren Berrios, 37, who denies ever practicing witchcraft, sued in 2001 after she was fired following her second year as a reading specialist teacher. She has since moved to the Atlanta area, where she is working as a teacher. The trial in the lawsuit began Wednesday in New York.

While the school district was not under obligation to explain why Berrios was not granted tenure, its lawyer claimed Wednesday that Berrios didn't get along with co-workers, had a condescending attitude and was eventually reported to Child Protective Services after telling tales about imaginary injuries to her own son.

''It's been quite a long time since we've seen a witch trial in this country,'' defense attorney Steven Stern told a jury during opening statements in U.S. District Court.

But an attorney for Berrios, John Ray, said during his opening statement Wednesday that Berrios was terminated by the principal at the time, Andrew Albano, ''after he decided she was a witch.'' Albano was a born-again Christian who thrust his religion on the public school, Ray said, and viewed Berrios as suspect.

''He brought his religion into the school,'' Ray said, claiming the principal would have children sing ''Jesus Loves All the Children of the World'' over the school's public address system, and make other pro-Christian pronouncements. ''He was foisting his own brand of Christianity on the school.''

Stern countered that Berrios told co-workers once about going to a coven meeting and taught students about the Salem witch trials, but insisted her firing ''had nothing to do with anyone thinking that she was a witch.''

Stern said co-workers will testify during the trial that Berrios fabricated stories, including that her husband was in a plane crash and that her 2-year-old son required surgeries and suffered debilitating injuries. She reportedly told others that her son's fingers were severed when his hand was caught in a VCR, prompting her to send a letter to the school staff warning of the dangers of VCRs, Stern said.

The attorney said school officials were concerned Berrios may have been suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a rare form of child abuse in which parents make up a child's illness to gain attention and sympathy for themselves.

The concerns became so great, the attorney said, that Albano filed a report with Child Protective Services officials. A spokesman for Suffolk County's Child Protective Services, citing confidentiality requirements, said officials do not comment on whether an investigation exists.

Hampton Bays is on Long Island about 80 miles from Manhattan.