CHICAGO -- Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis apologized to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Monday after a video of Lewis saying Duncan had a lisp was made public.
Lewis, who is also the vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, made the comments during a Northwest Teachers for Social Justice event in Seattle on Oct. 1. Video from the event was posted on YouTube by the conservative Education Action Group late last week.
"Now, you know [Duncan] went to private school 'cause if he had gone to public school he would have had that lisp fixed," Lewis said in the video.
(Scroll down to watch the remarks)
"I know -- that was ugly wasn't it? I'm sorry."
Lewis, who was clearly trying to draw laughs from the crowd, went on to discuss her drug use during college.
"I am the only black woman in the class of 1974 from Dartmouth College," she said. "... People are impressed ... I spent those years smoking lots of weed, self-medicating. ... Oh, I'm sorry, there are kids here. I wasn't supposed to say that, right? Too late!"
Conservative columnist and EAG CEO Kyle Olson slammed Lewis in a blog post about the Seattle speech.
"I thought we taught children not to mock or make fun of others. Apparently the teachers are exempt from such lessons," Olson wrote. "This is the best the Chicago school employees have to offer?"
In a statement, CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin accused "right-wing, anti-public education advocates" of promoting the video, which is more than a month old, in an attempt to shift the "focus from bad public policy decisions in education to attacks on [Lewis'] character."
"Arne hasn't seen the video," Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, told the Huffington Post. "Karen called to apologize, and he accepted her apology."
Hamilton said Duncan was not paying attention to the video and was busy working.
"Karen Lewis is a good soul," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. "She did the right thing by apologizing to Secretary Duncan. Karen regrets what she said and I regret it."
Lewis has been in the spotlight quite a bit in recent months. She went up against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to extend Chicago's school day by 90 minutes, calling Emanuel "clearly anti-teacher" and accusing him of cursing at her during a private meeting.
The CTU and Lewis herself seemed to have these recent battles in mind when responding to questions about the Oct. 1 comments. Lewis said in a statement that the incident has taught her not to let her frustrations with those who question the "effectiveness and commitment" of teachers get in the way of carrying out her responsibilities as a leader.
"Karen Lewis has always been candid and outspoken when discussing the personalities and policies that have adversely impacted public education in our nation," Gadlin said. "The observations she made about herself and other public figures were an attempt at humor and candor before a live audience. While she may never be honored with the Mark Twain Award for comedy, President Lewis' opinions and self-deprecating humor were an attempt 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."
WATCH Lewis make the comments here: