— Lily Eskelsen García (@Lily_NEA) December 2, 2015
A couple of days ago a reader sent me a video of a speech NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia made to the Campaign for America’s Future.
The CAF is a liberal Democratic Party group. The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, former AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have served on its board of directors.
The video began with Eskelsen Garcia telling some silly story about being on a plane with a guy who called her “darling’ and who challenged her as to what teachers did.
The NEA President then proceeded to list all the things teachers do, listing them in a rapid fire way.
My reader included a copy of a statement from a national group of lawyers that represent parents of special needs students. It condemned Eskelsen Garcia’s speech.
There was horror, angst and disgust felt this past weekend when Lily Eskesen, the President of the National Education Association gave a speech about all the tasks teachers do and listed the “chronically ‘tarded” and the “medically annoying” as part of her list.
In the days since, a number of national organizations representing people and students with disabilities have voiced outrage and issued statements demanding an apology.
I listened and watched the video several times. I wrote my friend back and said that I was skeptical Eskelsen Garcia said what they said she said. It was hard to make out because Eskelsen Garcia was speaking so fast. I don’t believe the NEA President would have used the offensive term “chronically ‘tarded.” It sounded to me that in her speedy delivery she had stepped over the word “tardy.” I mean, whoever heard of the phrase “chronically ‘tarded”? As for “medically annoying”? I couldn’t even figure out what she meant.
I didn’t post anything. I wanted to wait and see.
Well the stuff hit the fan. The Youtube video of her speech got a million hits.
Garcia had to offer an apology. And she did.
Epic fail. 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. I apologize.
Fair enough. Her speech was clumsy and offensive. But it wasn’t policy.
It will be up to the families of children with special needs to decide if the apology is accepted.
This week the NEA has been asking members to call Washington in support of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
Yet there has been not a word from the NEA or President Garcia about the spectacular weaknesses in the bill when it comes to special needs students.
The weaknesses include language that approves of Pay for Success initiatives for special needs students. Pay for Success is the program that pays a bounty to Wall Street investment firms like Goldman Sachs for every needy student not receiving special education services.
There has been no apology for that. And it will really hurt students with special needs in ways that a mispronounced word or a thoughtlessly awkward phrase won’t.