Chicago Teachers Union President Mocks Arne Duncan, Jokes About Smoking Pot -- With Kids in the Audience

Susan Jones | November 15, 2011 | 9:42am EST
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( - The head of the Chicago Teachers Union -- addressing a teachers' conference in Seattle last month -- joked about spending her college years "smoking lots of weed" and "self-medicating" -- then apologized because "there are kids here."

"I wasn't supposed to say that, right? Too late," Karen Lewis says in a YouTube video that was picked up by an education blogger and Chicago newspapers.

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The Chicago Sun-Times noted that Lewis is a former standup comedian. In the YouTube video, she also makes fun of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's lisp, and wonders if he was "self-medicating" at Harvard University:

"He was an athlete, so he might not have been self-medicating, but I wouldn't count on it," Lewis says. "You know he went to private school," she says at another point, "because if he’d have gone to public school, he’d have had that lisp fixed. I know, that was ugly, wasn’t it? I’m sorry.”

The Chicago Teachers Union, in a statement on its website, says the “edited” Lewis YouTube video is being promoted by “right-wing, anti-public education advocates.”

“Karen Lewis has always been candid and outspoken when discussing the personalities and policies that have adversely impacted public education in our nation,” the CTU said in Lewis’s defense. “The observations she made about herself and other public figures were an attempt at humor and candor before a live audience. Though these comments were made more than a month ago, today they are being presented out of context in order to shift the focus from bad public policy decisions in education to attacks on her character.”

CTU said Lewis was trying to “lighten the mood during a long and serious discussion about the on-going campaign to blame and vilify teachers for everything wrong with public education.”

"As a classroom teacher with more than two decades of experience and now as a leader of the third largest teachers union in the country, this teaches me that I can never let frustrations get in the way of carrying out my responsibilities as a leader," the CTU quoted Lewis as saying.

The Chicago Sun-Times quoted a spokesman for Duncan as saying that Lewis has apologized for her remarks about him. "She apologized, he accepted it, and he's moving forward," Duncan's spokesman was quoted as saying.

Tuesday's Miami Herald reports that another teachers’ union leader is being investigated for allegedly using union dues to reimburse employees, board members and others for their political contributions.

Four of the union’s executive board members are calling for Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo to step down.

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