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NEA President Responds to Outrage Over Comments About Special Needs Students

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Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the National Education Association (NEA), has apologized after public backlash to her comments about students with disabilities.

“In my attempt to be clever and funny, I stepped on a word in one phrase, and I created another phrase that I believed was funny, but was insulting,” Garcia says in the video below. “I apologize.”

During the Campaign for America’s Future Awards Gala in October, Garcia said the following:

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.

Early this week, the the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), led the charge in condemning the comments:

On the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is horribly unfortunate and sadly ironic that we must chastise the President of the NEA for her comments.

On Monday, Garcia released the video (above), where she calls her comments an “epic fail.” She also offers an explanation for her use of the terms “chronically tarded” and “medically annoying”:

I meant to say “the chronically tardy,” but that’s not what came out.  I was making the point that we adapt daily lesson plans and schedules to meet the needs of students who, often through no fault of their own, are never on time. Tardiness can be a huge factor in poor academic performance. Sometimes, students are tardy because of physical or mobility issues; other times, tardiness is a symptom of deeper issues at home. You know how embarrassed and out of place you feel when you walk in late to an important work meeting? Well, imagine how a child feels when she is consistently late for school, her “job.”  As educators, we have to devise ways to keep chronically tardy students on track, or else they will fall hopelessly behind and feel marginalized.

As to the second phrase, I did say “medically annoying.” I apologize for my choice of words. Let me be clear: I was not referring to students who are ill or medically fragile. I was referring to the student who, for example, has an argument with his girlfriend and now is having a very bad day, and doing everything humanly possible to annoy the teacher. What we do in our classrooms and how we adjust must take these students into consideration, too.

You can read Garcia’s full response here.

We want to know: What’s your take on Garcia’s comments and apology? Let us know in the comments below.

Originally published: December 1, 2015
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