4 Public Education strongly opposes ableism in all of its forms whether in the classroom or in public, which includes the use of slurs like the one used by Ms. Karen Keys-Gamarra during the October 20, 2022 Regular School Board Meeting. Such words not only severely harm those in the disability community, but harm our entire community and should never be used or tolerated.
We appreciate that Ms. Keys-Gamarra quickly apologized and continues to try to make amends to the individuals and community she has harmed. Nevertheless, we see her words as a caution for the community: ableist slurs, words, and actions are far too common and too infrequently pushed back upon.
Such words and actions are deeply offensive and harmful to students and their families, and employees. We would hope that each of us in our school system commits to countering such damaging words, while working harder to center our education system on the needs, dignity, and abilities of all students. If any students with disabilities are bullied or name-called as a result of their disability, then our community has failed. As Ms. Togbe so aptly said, “Students are watching.” If they see that we do not value each student by name and by need, then they will follow that poor example.
Ms. Keys-Gamarra has a long history of advocacy for a diverse group of children and their families, including as a family law attorney and serving as a court-appointed guardian ad litem. She is an important part of the Fairfax County School Board, having served as chair of numerous committees and having spearheaded the Special Education audit. She is continually advocating for equity and quality education.
Her lifetime record illustrates her dedication to children. 4 Public Education hopes that she will continue in these endeavors as she works to heal the harm she caused. In the meantime, we oppose attempts to remove her from the School Board or censure her. Ms. Keys-Gamarra is in her third year of a four-year term and is up for re-election next year; therefore, the Fairfax County voters should decide if she should stay on the school board for future terms.
Censure is one of the most serious consequences a legislative body can impose on its members. While Ms. Keys-Gamarra’s behavior was disgraceful, it does not rise to a level at which such a drastic measure should be invoked. Censure affects not only that member, but also her constituents. In our view it should likely be used for behaviors that are both egregious and intentional. This action does not meet this test; therefore, while strongly condemning her words, we oppose censure as a resolution.
This is a moment for the entire community to reassess their words, behavior, and biases regarding disabilities and disabled people. We can all do better and be better for our students and our community.
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