SHAMOKIN — The president of the Shamokin Area School Board apologized on Wednesday through the district solicitor for his use of a disparaging term for those with intellectual disabilities at a public meeting.
School Board President Brian Persing during Tuesday night's public meeting responded to comments through Facebook criticizing COVID-19 issues. His comments were criticized by special needs advocates.
"Board President Brian Persing deeply apologizes for the comment made at last evening's meeting," said solicitor Tim Bowers in an emailed statement. "Brian misspoke in the heat of the moment. The District remains committed to providing all students with a quality education during these trying times."
The Daily Item is not using the derogatory language Persing used in this story.
The video of the meeting was removed from the district's YouTube page, but it was temporary, said Bowers.
"We expect that the video of the meeting will be available for public view this evening (Wednesday evening)," he said.
Brian Habermehl, a Northumberland man with cerebral palsy and a self-advocate leader at the Arc Susquehanna Valley, a non-profit membership organization in Sunbury committed to promoting awareness, opportunities, quality programs, and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities and their families, said the term Persing used is "surprising" that Persing used the phrase.
"That word is offensive," said Habermehl. "I encourage all people to use person-first language and eliminate that term. It is surprising. Words hurt. We need to choose them wisely."
According to the District of Columbia's Office of Disability Rights, “People First Language” (PFL) puts the person before the disability, and describes what a person has, not who a person is. PFL uses phrases such as “person with a disability,” “individuals with disabilities,” and “children with disabilities,” as opposed to phrases that identify people based solely on their disability, such as “the disabled.”
The phrase, according to the ODR, is "offensive and outdated." The terms “developmental disability,” “cognitive disability,” or “intellectual disability” may be substituted as more respectful options.
"Words can also have the power to unite, and that is what we want," said Habermehl.