Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, posted a video and written apology on her blog for an October gala speech in which she mentioned taking care of “chronically ‘tarded’ and medically annoying” students as part of a teacher’s responsibilities.
“Epic failure,” García said in her video statement. “In my attempt to be clever and funny, I stepped on a very important word in a phrase, and I created another phrase that I believed was funny, but it was insulting, and I apologize.”
In her Oct. 27 speech at an awards gala, García raced through a long list of teachers’ activities: “We serve kids a hot meal. We put Band-Aids on boo-boos. We diversify our curriculum instruction to meet the personal individual needs of all of our students—the blind, the hearing-impaired, the physically challenged, the gifted and talented, the chronically ‘tarded’ and the medically annoying.” Her list continued and ended with cheers and applause from the audience.
Disability advocacy groups, including the American Association of People with Disabilities and the National Down Syndrome Society, said García’s words were insensitive and hurtful. Some parents of children with disabilities called for her to step down.
García said that “tarded” was meant to be “tardy.” As for “medically annoying,” that was not a reference to students who are ill or medically fragile. “I was talking about that student who, for an example, has an argument with his girlfriend and now he’s having a very bad day, and is doing everything humanly possible to annoy his teacher. The kinds of things that happen in a classroom every day,” García said in the video.
“I hope students will learn from my error,” García said in her video. “We should all be more careful when we speak, slow down, make sure our points are well-articulated and fully understood. The bottom line for me is, I screwed up, and I apologize. Please judge me by my heart, and not by my mistakes.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.