In Yearbook, Students Called "Mentally Retarded"

Mesquite High School in Texas printed yearbooks that referred to some students with special needs as "mentally retarded." "People-first language" is preferable to such labels. Parents and students were "shocked" and "appalled" at the use of the word. In addition, some students' photos were printed without permission.


Laura, Jobe, the district's communication director, blamed the editorial process: "There was an oversight in the editing approval process. Those who work inside the special education department know these requirements." She also said, "Some of the disabilities the students in the Special Education Program have are being blind, deaf or non-verbal … (students' names) are both blind and deaf, as well as mentally retarded." Did she miss the point?

On behalf of the district, Jobe offered this apology, "We earnestly regret the term ‘mentally retarded' was included… and offer our apologies to our students and their families." The school district has collected all yearbooks from students and is getting them reprinted with the errors corrected.

"Spread the Word to End the Word" strives to eliminate the use of the "r-word," which the campaign considers hate speech:

"When they were originally introduced, the terms 'mental retardation' or 'mentally retarded' were medical terms with a specifically clinical connotation; however, the pejorative forms, 'retard' and 'retarded' have been used widely in today's society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities. Additionally, when 'retard' and 'retarded' are used as synonyms for 'dumb' or 'stupid' by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity."

Discussion Starters:

  • What should be the editoral process for approving text and photos in a high school yearbook?
  • Who is responsible for the error?
  • What's your view of the word "retarted"? Is it offensive, outdated, funny, or something else?