An open letter to Lily Eskelsen Garcia

The following is an open letter to Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association.

Dear Ms. Eskelsen Garcia,

At a rally in South Carolina last Tuesday night, Donald Trump did a ghastly impression of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski. As I’m sure you’ve read by now, Mr. Kovaleski had dared to contradict Trump’s lies about, well, about a whole bunch of things. In response, The Donald mocked him. More specifically, he mimicked his disability. As I understand it, Mr. Kovaleski has a condition called arthrogryposis, which affects the movement of his arms.

Here’s Mr. Kovaleski on the left and Mr. Trump, mid-impression, on the right:


And, in case there’s any doubt left as to precisely what Mr. Trump was doing, you can watch the video here.

Trump, being Trump, is now demanding an apology from Mr. Kovaleski. Right.

Anyway, I’m assuming that we can agree that mocking one’s disability is reprehensible, yes? But Trump is Trump and reprehensible is what he does. It sells. It gets him on the front page. Google his name and link after link pops up leading to the story.

Last month, you made a speech at the Campaign for America’s Future Awards Gala. The gala was billed as an opportunity to celebrate “progressive champions.” You were one of those champions. In your speech, you 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.

…the chronically tarded and the medically annoying.

I can only assume that you thought that would be funny. I’m sure that it would have gotten a hearty laugh out of the Donald. But Ms. Eskelsen Garcia, mocking my child’s disability and her medical condition is not funny. Not even a little.

Let me say that again. Mocking my child’s disability and her medical condition is not funny. It’s reprehensible. And it’s made far more reprehensible by the source.

You represent three million teachers, Ms. Eskelsen Garcia. Three million people who show up at work each day and greet our children. Three million people who can either look at their disabled students just as they do their non-disabled peers – as capable, worthy, beautiful, complicated, fully dimensional human beings who can flourish with their care and expertise — or — as an annoyance, a cost, a hindrance. Or worse, as fodder for a punch line.

The American Association of People with Disabilities has made a statement forcefully condemning your words. I hope you’ve seen it. I hope you’ve taken it in and tried hard to understand how hurtful this is to so many and more importantly, why.

Ms. Eskelsen Garcia, you have an incredible opportunity here. I implore you to use it.

Apologize for your ill-chosen words.

Mean it.

Talk about why what you said was so vastly inappropriate and why no one else should ever follow suit.

You are an educator, Ms. Eskelsen Garcia.

Use this moment to educate.


My child deserves nothing less. And while I know better than to expect humanity from an entertainer cum politician, I hope like hell that I’m not mistaken in expecting it from her teachers.


Jess Wilson

Proud mother of Katie and Brooke

Proud daughter of educators

Ed Note: 

From the AAPD ..

You can do your part to call out Lily Eskelsen Garcia and the NEA by making your voice heard on Twitter:

“Chronically ‘tarded & medically annoying” is neither progressive nor acceptable @NEAToday @Lily_NEA @OurFuture #UnacceptableExample

30 thoughts on “An open letter to Lily Eskelsen Garcia

  1. Thank you for this. I too am a daughter (and a sister) of educators. I know how hard their jobs are. I get the sentiment of the rest of her speech. But that comment? I don’t understand that. Were my parents ever annoyed by students? Sure, kids are annoying sometimes. Some more than others. But never because of a disability or a medical condition. I took offense to that comment both as a parent of a special needs child and also as a child of teachers. Never would they think like that, or try to use their student’s disabilities as a “poor me” example of why their job is so hard. And I pray to God that my son’s teachers follow the lead of teachers like my parents and like your dad and not this so-called leader.

  2. I am offended by all of this and by a statement that is not yet condemned by the world: hearing impaired. Just like my son is not neurologically impaired, my daughter is not hearing impaired. Her lack of hearing is a difference, not an impairment. She is Deaf. Her community is ok with Hard of Hearing…but hearing impaired is not ok.

    • Em- I am a teenager with hearing loss and I use the term hearing impaired. I know there are lots of people who use the term hard or hearing or deaf but I think it is truly personal preference. I’m not part of the deaf community so I can’t speak for them but I actually dislike the term hard of hearing and I feel wrong referred to as deaf as I am not. I can tell you are a passionate mother but please realize that not everyone shares the same preference of language. Thank you. And thank you for this post, Jess. As a student with a 504 plan(used to be an IEP), a daughter of a teacher and a future teacher, this is a very important message

  3. Thank you for calling her out. I’m assuming it’s a defense mechanism and that she’s trying to be “clever” but at what expense? I don’t even understand the joke.

  4. Hi Jess,

    Thank you for writing this. I am the mom of a nine year old child who has a primary diagnosis of autism, an unspecified intellectual disability, and a few health issues as well. I felt compelled to start a petition to have President Garcia removed from office or for her to resign. Here is the link:

    If folks feel so inclined, I would appreciate it of they would sign this petition. Our children are too precious to allow the people who teach them to be governed by someone who has no problem making such statements. Special ed kids and parents suffer daily. It is time to band together and make a difference.

    Thank you,
    C. Bray

  5. I’d buy into her explanation IF I hadn’t heard those “categories” before- years ago and hundreds of miles away from where Ms. Garcia was during her speech. I’ve heard teachers and aides in my son’s public school describing sped kids in their classrooms as medically annoying and something very close to the chronically ….. that she used in her speech. Chronically wasn’t used but the “misspoken word” was. Granted I was in “their space” at the time and they felt they could speak freely- just as Ms. Garcia thought she was in a space that she could speak freely.

    She’s apologized – even with trying to spin it, it’s still a public apology- so I will accept the apology portion.

    The reasoning on why- not so much.

    • After reading her explanation, I find it moderately plausible that what she was going for was something closer to “certifiably annoying.” As for the chronically ‘tardy,’ well, I find it awfully hard to swallow, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. The thing is, making ANY student, any CHILD, any human being the butt of a joke (particularly those who are struggling as is usually the case with a kid who is “chronically tardy” or a kid who just broke up with his girlfriend (which, um, what??) from a podium as the president of the NEA is still outrageously inappropriate.

      I appreciate the apology. I like that she said that she crewed up. I just wish I really felt like she understood WHY.

      • “I just wish I really felt like she understood WHY”…. yes… that. That is my frustration with the whole situation in a nut shell for me. She doesn’t get it- just like those teachers I overheard years ago. Just like many of millions she represents as president of their union. Many do get it- so please don’t think I’m lumping them all into that category. Those who do get it are priceless and precious and need to be respected and treated as such.

        Sadly though, there are just as many or more who do not or do not wish to understand our kids and can do(and have done to countless children including my sons) more damage than they realize with their careless words and actions.

    • No, she said “tarded” In her apology she even admits that she said tarded. She claims she meant tardy. Her official apology talks about chronic tardiness due to physical ailments and problems at home. Even if you buy that, it still doesn’t make up for her “medically annoying” comment and her explanation for that just doesn’t make sense at all. “Medically” is about the worst choice of words imaginable if she actually was intending to say what she discusses in her apology.

      • One of the reasons why I don’t buy into her explanation of why she said what she claims she said is that the list of students who get diversified curriculum should have included the developmently delayed and the medically fragile…this is right in IDEA and is listed in just about every special Ed document parents of special needs students see.

        I didn’t see or hear them mentioned in the transcript of the video or heard them during the video. She doesn’t mention those categories of students at all. Yet those categories belonged right where the word stumble and poor choice of descriptive words fell. So believing she meant “tardy” is a huge stretch for me-even without hearing those words before from other teachers.

        And as Jess has said, using children…any child as something to be mocked or used to get a laugh is inappropriate especially when you’re the head of the largest teacher Union in the country.

        It has been a very sad comedy of errors in judgement from the words chosen, the speed with which they were read, to the apology itself.


  7. And just to clarify.. When I use the phrase “comedy of errors”, I meant in the ancient Greek play sense not in the funny sense.

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  9. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am a teacher of medically fragile students and was taken by surprise by LOly’s words. But I have read Lily’s apology and believe it is from her heart.

    I am proud to be the first teacher who works with medically fragile kids to be named both the Oregon Teacher of the Year and the Oregon Education Association’s Teacher of Excellence. I acceptLily’s apology because I know she supports my students. In July I gave a speech in front of Lily and spoke of my medically fragile students. Lily told me I was a hero to her for the work I have done for my students.

    I believe Lily when she apologized because I know she is fighting for my students and all students. We all have friends who have misspoke or said something out of character, myself included. But an error does not negate the fact that Lily is a staunch defender of youth, kids with special needs included. I will never doubt that and I accept her apology. I hope you find it in your heart to do the same.

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  13. She says ‘ chronically tardy’ not ‘tarded’. As if any teacher would use the term ‘retarded’ in this day and age!!

    • I’ve responded to this same comment three times now. SHE said in HER apology that she said chronically tarded. That’s what she said. And what she said she said. And this is getting really old.

      • And it’s pretty fair to ask what teacher would use the term “medically annoying” in this day and age as well.

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