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Autistic Teen Stands Up for His Education, Gets Shut Down By School Board

Autistic Teen Stands Up for His Education, Gets Shut Down By School Board

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.

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Photo credit: Universiteitskrant Univers.

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65 comments

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5:40PM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

Every person with disability has the right to try to improve themselves and "normal ones " have the obligation to help them!!!! That School board should put themselves in the boys shoes to see how they would like to be treated!!!!!!!!!

5:11AM PDT on Oct 23, 2013

Thank you S. E. Smith, for Sharing this!

3:08PM PDT on Oct 18, 2013

I read his speech and wow. I wish he was allowed to speak and I hope the school board will eventually listen. His suspension should be revoked and they should bring someone else in to show the school how they should be treating him. This is just awful.

12:19PM PDT on Oct 18, 2013

Suzan F. - You're right. For some families, it may not be the best decision, but it's a choice these families should be able to make.

I think the main problem is cost. Many states are willing to pay a subsidy to put these kids in institutions away from home, at least part of the time, but they are so afraid of graft & dishonesty and abuse of the system by these parents, I believe, that's why they will not subsidize a parent who home-schools, even within state guidelines.

Is there a way for these parents (and I've asked this of these parents in other forums) to band together to lobby their state legislators to change these rules or, at least, come up with a set of rules that the majority can live with so that these families can get the help they need that would enable them to do this?

3:38AM PDT on Oct 18, 2013

Let's rise up in rebellion and shut
down the entire school board for violating
his First Amendment rights to free speech!!

The entire school board should be
prosecuted for high treason!!!

11:27PM PDT on Oct 17, 2013

Adults yes they are. Mature aren't.

8:08PM PDT on Oct 17, 2013

One more reason to homeschool our autistic kids. They do NOT get treated with any respect in public schools, they are not listened to, & teachers & administators, in general, don't give a rat's ass if these kids fall through the cracks. They have rights in public school...the right to sit down & shut up, the right to be humiliated & to feel like a fool, the right to be neglected, the right to be put in a "Special Ed." class & forgotten about...I could go on & on. Any school district may not be happy with my thoughts on this matter, but at least I know my son is learning while he's being schooled at home.

12:48PM PDT on Oct 17, 2013

Case in point of what happens when we take a stand against the dictators of society that believe people must blindly obey and remain subservient to them. This is an outrage.

7:42AM PDT on Oct 17, 2013

Thanks for sharing

7:38AM PDT on Oct 17, 2013

And after finally being able to watch the video (not avail to me at time of last post), it looks like he was being punished before the school board meeting was held. If he was punished after this (the author of this piece seems to have made a mistake in that timing), it would appear that they're punishing him more for his parents' comments than for anything he said.

I've never been on a school board before, but these people look like they're hamstrung to the rafters.
And if one of the functions of a school board is to facilitate intercourse between the administrators and the students/parents, then who's job is that?
It seemed to me that this student simply was using the "accusations"(?) to Illuminate the problems within the school, that it seems to me, this board SHOULD be tasked with answering.
Has anyone here ever served on a school board? Your info would be very enlightening for the rest of us. Maybe individual community boards should look at their mission statements again and perhaps ammend them.
But whoever said "intimidation" was a reason to dismiss Christian was WAAAAY off the mark.

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