14-year-old Christian Ranieri has been having problems with the implementation of his individualized education program (IEP), created to address his needs as a student with autism. So he made a bold move: he took his issues before a meeting of the school board, highlighting his experiences as an autistic person and then outlining the problems with how the school handled him. The school board’s response, however, was to shut him down, telling him they didn’t handle disciplinary matters and effectively silencing his prepared remarks.
The freshman at Northport High School would have delivered a sharp indictment of his treatment in the Long Island school system, as his speech detailed not just the situation that brought him to the school board in the first place, but systematic mistreatment in the schools as an autistic student. The complete speech, provided to Northport Patch, details his experiences growing up as a nonverbal autistic child, his hard work to develop speaking and communications skills, and his struggles in the school district. Ranieri reports that he’s been denied accommodations spelled out in his IEP, and has been forced to self-advocate for basic needs in school despite the fact that they’re supposed to be provided.
This year, he participated in the development of his IEP, illustrating the leaps and bounds he’s made as a student and a self-advocate. No longer content to allow his parents, teachers, and administrators to develop his education plan, a crucial component of his school experience, he took part in the meetings to determine his necessary accommodations, work on a behavioral intervention plan and create a safe learning environment.
Now, he notes, not only is the school violating the IEP, but it unfairly suspended him in the wake of an incident in which he attempted to stand up for himself and was instead labeled “intimidating.” He went before the school board to plead for help after his family’s requests to meet with school administrators to discuss the suspension were rebuffed, and the school board, it turns out, was equally uninterested in hearing him.
They silenced him on the grounds that the state law protects students and does not permit the public discussion of disciplinary matters. While this is the case, and the law is designed with the best interests of students in mind, this is clearly an issue much larger than Ranieri’s suspension — the entire implementation of his IEP and his treatment at school are involved, and the board could have focused on these issues, which made up the bulk of his speech. Certainly the audience members wanted him to be heard, breaking out into shouting when he was told to stop.
The rest of the world is also apparently interested; the video of the incident posted by his parents is rapidly garnering views on YouTube:
Disability advocates in particular are on alert, as Ranieri is not alone in struggling in school because his IEP is not being respected, and then being silenced when he tries to protect himself. He’s fortunate to have the backing of a strong family and a self-advocacy group; as groups like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network can attest, the autistic community in particular has a long record of work on self-advocacy and personal empowerment, and autistics are already abuzz with this video. It’s just possible that the school board may have tangled with the wrong student, and they’re about to find out just how powerful autistics can be.
Photo credit: Universiteitskrant Univers.