A school board meeting took a turn for the dramatic when an autistic teen was not allowed to deliver his speech. Christian Ranieri, 14, a high-functioning autistic boy, came to the school board to appeal a two-day suspension that he had been given for shouting at a teacher. The school board, once they realized what he was there for, cut him off. They were afraid of legal repercussions related to privacy laws if they responded to him. Ranieri, his parents, and other attendees, countered that no one in the school had responded to them, and they were just trying to be heard.
Ranieri, a freshman at Northport High School in New York, was supposed to have an individualized education program and behavior plan, on account of his autism. However, the special programs were not put in place for at least four weeks into the school year. When the plan was put into place, it was not done correctly. Ranieri tried to speak to a teacher about the error after class, but the teacher refused. Ranieri got frustrated, shouted, and was suspended for 2 days for the outburst.
Ranieri now contends that he was treated unfairly due to his autism. More specifically, his autism was not taken into account: what was unfair was how he was treated like everyone else. He began to explain this at the meeting, but he was cut off by Board of Education President Stephen Waldenburg (at 1:00 of the video):
“I understand what you’re saying. I just have to ask you to please understand that boards of education are unable to legally, both on the federal and state level, to discuss student disciplinary actions in public sessions so I would ask you to please be careful in what you’re saying. It is something the board cannot entertain in public session,” Waldenburg, said.
Ranieri continued his speech, but he was cut off again. From there the meeting devolved into the board saying that this was not the appropriate space to discuss Ranieri’s suspension, and Ranieri’s parents countering that they had tried to set up multiple meetings with no success.
After the meeting, Ranieri felt dejected:
“I feel rejected from being able to speak my mind to a group of people that I hoped would want to listen to me,”
The Northport school board said they were sympathetic to Ranieri, but in the right to cut him off:
"The Northport-East Northport Board of Education applauds ninth grade student Christian Ranieri for having the courage to come forward at the Board of Education meeting of Monday, October 7th, to share his perspectives,” Waldenburg wrote in a statement.
"But Christian’s speech veered into a revelation of details regarding a pending disciplinary matter and individuals associated with it, and thus on two occasions, I explained to him why those parts of the speech were inappropriate," Waldenburg continued. "We recognize the sensitivities of this issue, but stand firm in ensuring that we are in full compliance with all State and Federal laws, as our oath of office requires."
It’s difficult to tell if either side is in the wrong. The school board may have done better to say that they can’t respond in this forum, but allowed Ranieri to give his full speech. Then again, they are better in the long term angering a student and his parents than facing a lawsuit. Now they are facing a different problem: Ranieri’s video has gone viral, and he is the much more sympathetic character in this drama.