COPAA issued a statement expressing horror, angst and disgust of our members this past weekend when Lily Esklesen Garcia , 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. Ms. Eskesen, has since issued an apology which some have appreciated and other criticized as disingenuous and defensive.
I do give her credit for owning the mistake and calling COPAA and many of our colleagues directly to discuss and apologize. We spoke last night and I had the opportunity to tell Ms Esklesen Garcia that our members know all too well that through deeds and words students with disabilities are often marginalized in our schools. I explained that the reality is that words, whether intentional or not, are the most hurtful when they reflect the tone and attitude many of our families experience daily in schools.
We see it when the general education teacher forgets to include the child with disabilities in field trips, class photos and assemblies.
We hear it when we are told that our children cannot have related services because "that's not how we do it here," and, when we are told that our children have to spend their day in the hall way or principal’s office because of their behavior and are encouraged to medicate our children in order for them to attend school.
We experience it when our kids are pushed out, restrained and secluded and arrested.
Our kids are often treated at school as annoyances, afterthoughts. It seems the only time they get mentioned at all is at budget time as the scapegoat for all that is wrong with funding education.
In our call, I pointed out that in a blog post on the NEA site Ms Esklesen Garcia herself rightly stated that when students of color are marginalized and stereotyped, it is far more difficult for them to learn and achieve. And that is exactly our point regarding her word and our students with disabilities.
To me, Ms. Esklesen Garcia statement verifies that implicit bias is alive and well in our nation’s schools. One of the obvious challenges of changing implicit bias is to become conscious of our beliefs and take actions to counteract the bias. Ms Esklesen Garcia, and the educators she leads, can and must use promising practices to address this implicit bias for all marginalized students.
To be fair there are many wonderful examples of teachers and administrators who go above and beyond to creatively and enthusiastically support students who need additional supports and services, modified curriculum or differentiated instruction. We said in our statement the other day, and I repeat: our children will not be successful without good teachers. We applaud and support their efforts. We recognize the extra steps many take on a daily basis to support students with disabilities to learn and to grow.
The message from the NEA leadership needs to embody the good work of their professionals and the care, strength and commitment teachers bring to all students, including those with disabilities every day.
So I frankly told her that what we need and what we expect now are deeds from NEA to promote exemplary teaching. Help us change the conversation to how to support every child to succeed. We know all students can learn and we need teachers to be meaningful partners with us in that journey. I asked that future posts, speeches, activities and policy from the NEA serve to move our educational system forward in serving diverse students well. She graciously agreed. COPAA stands ready to work with the NEA and our colleagues to make such positive change a reality.
The glass half full part of me certainly hopes to see glimpses of understanding and support for our students here forward from the NEA. For after all, actions speak louder than words.