Education Department special assistant Eileen Marie Gardner resigned yesterday after a public outcry over her remarks that handicapped people had "selfishly drained resources from the normal school population" and that efforts to help the disabled were "misguided."
Another new appointee, Lawrence A. Uzzell, also resigned yesterday under fire for his remarks that every federal program for elementary and secondary education -- including aid to the handicapped -- should be abolished. He had been tapped to lead the administration's tuition tax-credit initiative.
Anne Graham, assistant secretary for public affairs, announced the two resignations late yesterday afternoon, one day after the two aides engaged in an emotional clash with Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.) at a hearing of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Education Department's budget.
Weicker, subcommittee chairman and the father of a son born with Down's syndrome, earlier had threatened to block money for their salaries. "This matter has been resolved to the benefit of education in our country," Weicker said after the resignations.
Graham said that there were no letters of resignation and that Secretary William J. Bennett would have no official statement. Neither Gardner nor Uzzell could be reached for comment.
In a letter to Weicker earlier yesterday, Bennett called Gardner's views on the handicapped "insensitive and repugnant" and said Uzzell "holds several views not consistent with my own." But he stopped short of saying he would fire his two hand-picked aides.
Several sources inside the department said Bennett had been waiting for the two to quit since Tuesday, when their views were widely circulated. But he was hesitant to fire them, one official said, because Bennett "is a very sensitive man."
Several aides said Bennett was unaware of Gardner's strong opinions about the handicapped and was caught off-guard by the publicity. He initially expressed indignation that what he called her view on religion was being challenged publicly, then defended her academic credentials, and finally called her views "repugnant."
While serving as education policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, Gardner wrote a draft policy paper saying that a person's disabilities "fit his level of internal spiritual development."
"Those of the handicapped constituency who seek to have others bear their burdens and eliminate their challenges seek to avoid the central issue in their lives," she wrote.
At a hearing Wednesday before Weicker's panel, Gardner defended those sentiments as "deeply held, personal religious views" that would not affect her public responsibilities.
Gardner, a Harvard-trained educator, also wrote the education chapter in the Heritage Foundation's "Mandate for Leadership II," a suggested blueprint for the second Reagan administration.
Representatives of the handicapped were elated by yesterday's resignations but criticized Bennett's handling of the controversy.
"We are really excited about this," said Michael Landwehr, legislative analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. "The response from the disability community was swift and sharp."
Referring to Gardner, Landwehr said, "What concerns us is the fact that he [Bennett] hired her in the first place. We were aware these were her views, and we're sure he was, too."
Susan Perlik, director of the American Coalition of Citizens With Disabilities, said, "I'm sure we'll be watching Mr. Bennett closely, now that he has a track record in terms of appointing people whose philosophy is against what the Department of Education is supposed to be for."
"All the disability groups knew about her," Perlik said. "He [Bennett] must have interviewed her. If he didn't know, that's even worse."