Boonsboro students take pledge to not use the R-word

Special Olympics and Best Buddies International led effort to stop derogatory use of retard and retarded

March 07, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Zach Getridge, left in the striped shirt, and Hannah Violet, middle, help Logen Wilt, right, get logged on Wednesday to pledge electronically to support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

BOONSBORO — Ignorant, offensive, and hateful were terms Boonsboro High School students used Wednesday to describe the R-word — retard or retarded — and its use.

During their lunch break Wednesday, dozens of Boonsboro students signed up online at to “pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”

The effort to get people to stop using the R-word, called Spread the Word to End the Word, was led by Special Olympics and Best Buddies International, according to the campaign’s Facebook page. The campaign began in 2009 and has participants around the world, according to

R-word day was about encouraging people to stop “saying retard because it’s detrimental, derogatory and just mean. It hurts people and families,” said Debbie Blackwell, who teaches life skills special education at Boonsboro High School. Blackwell promoted the pledge during morning announcements this week at the school.


“The use of the R-word is just, it’s, it’s an arrogant and also ignorant use of the word. It’s commonly misused. I just don’t believe it’s right,” said sophomore Sean Paradise, 15, of Keedysville.

“(I’ve) heard people call other people the R-word ... and I told them not to do it anymore,” said junior Brandon Canfield, 17, of Keedysville.

A few of the interviewed students who took the pledge said they had been called the R-word.
Sophomore Savannah Mower, 15, of Hagerstown, said she’s been called the R-word jokingly.

“I kind of shrugged it off, but it’s not right,” said Savannah, who has relatives who are mentally disabled.
When someone called Emilee Panunzi retarded, Emilee said she asked why the person said that and told the person it wasn’t right.

A junior, Emilee said her mother works with mentally disabled children through a horseback riding program in the Knoxville, Md., area.

“So it’s really important to me that we don’t call things retarded when they really aren’t. I think it’s offensive to them and it’s also offensive to their family and their friends,” said Emilee, 16, who lives west of Knoxville.

Boonsboro junior Paige Owens said she used the R-word, probably when she was a middle-schooler, but she couldn’t recall the circumstances in which she used it.

“I used to think of it as just a simple word, but it’s really hateful,” said Paige, 16, of Hagerstown.

“I guess I just learned what the word meant,” Paige said about why she stopped using the R-word.

“There’s awesome people in special education and they shouldn’t have to hear that kind of stuff,” Paige said. “I take the pledge because I think it’s a good thing that we’re saying that the R-word shouldn’t be used and that’s an important thing. I mean, it’s offensive and it’s mean.”

In Washington County, Spread the Word to End the Word began at North Hagerstown High School last school year through a Special Olympics Maryland grant, said Anne MacDonald, regional director for Special Olympics Maryland. This year, the region received enough grant money to extend the program to two other high schools, Boonsboro and Williamsport high schools, she said.

At Boonsboro, students could take the pledge by signing up online at, using one of three laptop computers during their lunch break. They received a sticker stating they took the pledge.

At times, the students had to wait for the website to be ready because it was so busy.

While the national drive to take the pledge was Wednesday, the pledge can be taken other days.

Principals at North Hagerstown and Williamsport high schools said they didn’t receive all of the materials, such as the banner, stickers and bracelets, in time to have the pledge event Wednesday and would have it next week.

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