A 14-year-old Long Island boy with autism spectrum disorder was cut off while speaking before a board of education meeting on Monday, Patch.com reported. Christian Ranieri was described by the website as having “high-functioning autism,” and attended the evening meeting at Northport High School to alert board members about what he felt was unfair treatment in the classroom because of his disability.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, the student stood in the center of the room as he read a letter he had written. Ranieri had apparently been suspended from school for two days, but he didn't think the punishment was fair. As he tried to explain himself, the school board's president, Stephen Waldenburg Jr., interrupted Ranieri and wouldn't let him continue.
“You have to understand that we are legally limited in what we can discuss in a public session,” Ranieri said. “You are not giving the superintendent an opportunity to discuss a private, personal matter.”
While Ranieri’s intention was to just “self-advocate,” as his mother Carina Ranieri told the Examiner, it was clear that the board didn't want to hear what he had to say. “It was apparent he was not being heard,” she said. According to Carina, her son wrote the letter he was trying to read because the elected school board members “are not taking responsibility” for Ranieri being suspended.
The teen is given special accommodations through an Individualized Education Plan, but Ranieri felt teachers were not following through with the program. Frustrated, the student reportedly yelled at a teacher on Sept. 27, which is when he was suspended, the Examiner said.
In the days following Ranieri’s voice being silenced at the school board meeting, a video of the event posted to YouTube on Tuesday has gained more than 8,500 views as of Wednesday night.
Before Ranieri’s parents attended the meeting, they tried to get a meeting with district superintendent Dr. Marylou McDermott, but after getting an appointment, she reportedly canceled and referred the Ranieris to other district officials.
A video of Ranieri's speech was posted below, along with the full text, courtesy of Patch.com:
My name is Christian Ranieri and I am a 9th Grader at Northport High School. You should know that I have a developmental disability called Autism.
I have come a long way in life as I could not talk in the beginning but now I am able to express my message to you in words. When I was 5 I cried a lot and would throw myself on the floor when I got frustrated. I am proud to say that now I can speak clearly and to the best of my ability try to deal with my frustration in words.
I feel like the decision made by the person at Northport High School to suspend me for 2 days was discriminatory on the part that I have Autism and the fact that she thought that what had happened was not a result of my Autism. This whole incident happened when I tried self-advocating for myself after my resource room teacher did not implement my IEP and Behavior Intervention Plan. The day before this alleged incident we had a meeting with my mom, my dad, my resource room teacher, the school psychologist, and my assistant principal. At this meeting I told them that my reward system had not been put in place and I had been in school for almost 1 month. Ever since the beginning of High school I have had to self-refer myself to the assistant principal's office because certain teachers would not allow me my accommodated seat on my IEP. In history there have been people who have had to fight for a seat. One that I know of and many of you might know of was named Rosa Parks. At that time, her civil rights did not afford her to sit in the front of a bus. As a result she was arrested for not giving up her seat.
In my case my civil rights give me the opportunity to have a special seat because of my developmental disability and yet I find myself having to fight for it. My parents have explained that you are the ones who decide who manages my IEP, my accommodations, and my behavior intervention plan. The person you chose to do this for me did not do her job and has accused me of intimidating her!
At the beginning of the school year I was excited to go to High School though my mom and dad were a bit nervous about how I would adjust and whether the staff would know how to handle me and my developmental disability. Every day I have a smile on my face because I am excited for a brand new day. Sometimes I can be hard to handle because my brain thinks differently but that does not mean I should be mistreated and dismissed by my teachers. Last May, I participated in my own meeting to describe what I needed to be a successful student at the High School and get my job done with the skills I have. Since then, the office of Developmental disabilities and its Self- Advocacy association has made me Youth Ambassador and has asked me to be a key note (sic) speaker in Albany at the end of October. It makes me very sad that I have come so far and now will have to talk about how my school does not support my plan to succeed. I have spent so much time outside of the classroom trying to explain my accommodations and my plan instead of in my class learning to pass my regents exams.
During the meeting with the person who suspended me, I explained how I tried to talk to the teacher appropriately. I even asked to come outside in the hallway so that I would not disrupt the other students in the classroom. The person who suspended me said she was not aware of that but did not seem to care about what I was saying. She did not seem to care about my IEP or my Behavior Intervention plan and the fact that some teachers were not implementing it. She told me and my parents that at Northport High School what it means to respect adults as my disorder makes it hard for me to understand this I have an intellectual and developmental disability that affects my social thinking. All of this is on my IEP. My parents are always trying to come up with plans for me so that I understand when I should and should not obey adults. Especially, if it can put me in danger. Would all of this be happening to a student with Autism that doesn't speak?
I feel that because I had to face many injustices, it is time for my voice to be heard. For example, in middle school one of my teachers did not let me use my netbook computer that is on my IEP for test corrections because he said that if I used it would be considered "cheating" so I spent over 2 days writing down the corrections even though I cannot really write well for a long period of time because of my issues, but if you give me my laptop I can get the job done! I want people to know that I deserve respect as much as they do. Not because I have a disability but because I am a human just like them.
After I was suspended I began to cry and my parents decided to go straight to the Superintendent's office to talk about our situation. We were told she was in a meeting and my parents and I said we would wait for it to be over in the hallway. After a little while, of sitting outside in the hallway, I told my Mom that I felt like we were at a Sit In. Since I love history, I know all about Sit Ins and how they were used as a protest method. A few minutes later, a security man came to us and asked us to leave. So we did. That was last Monday. Up until today she has never met with us.
I am asking you to investigate my situation and remove the suspension from my record as this suspension might ruin my future and I do not want to be seen as a trouble maker (sic). On Friday, during my resource room, one week after the alleged incident I saw the person who suspended me in the room talking with my teacher. I could not even look at her because I feel very angry about being suspended for self-advocating. How is it fair that I get punished and the teachers don't? Although my parents have told me that I must remain with the same resource room teacher until they can figure a way of getting me out of that classroom, I am here to ask you to please change my situation so I do not have to sit in a room with an adult who thinks that I intimidated her or that I am a trouble maker.
I met with a psychologist at my home and during our conversation I realized that people needed to hear my story and that is why I decided to do this.
The Self-Advocacy Association has taught me one very important thing and that is, "Nothing for me, without me." Thank you for listening to my story.