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Video Of Self-Advocate Silenced By School Board Goes Viral


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When a 14-year-old went before his local school board to take issue with the implementation of his individualized education program, he was rebuffed and now video of the incident is going viral.

Christian Ranieri, a high school freshman with autism, attempted to voice his concerns to the Northport-East Northport Board of Education in Northport, N.Y. earlier this week.

In a speech that Ranieri told Northpoint Patch he worked on for three hours, the teen spoke to the board about his experience with autism and said that his IEP was not being followed. Ranieri indicated that he was inappropriately disciplined and suspended because of his disability.

But just minutes into Ranieri’s speech, the teen was cut off by board president Stephen Waldenburg who said that disciplinary matters could not be discussed at the public meeting.

“This entire discussion which involves disciplinary action is totally improper for a public session,” Waldenburg said.

Ranieri’s parents objected saying that their son just wanted to be heard, but to no avail. Officials at the meeting told the family that their concerns should be taken up with the district’s superintendent, Marylou McDermott.

Video of the interaction is now going viral, with more than 46,000 views on YouTube since it was posted Tuesday.

Nonetheless, Waldenburg is sticking by his handling of the incident, telling Patch in a statement that “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.”

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Comments (35 Responses)

  1. Melissa Masland says:

    This is an all too familiar scenario. The young man with autism is amazing and should be lauded for his courage and grace in the face of the blatant disregard of the school board members. Where was their compassion and their humanity? Shame on them for hiding behind lawyers when their job first and foremost is the welfare of their students.

  2. Jay says:

    Outstanding! Witnessing this is good on countless fronts. Unfortunately this is an all too familiar experience for students with disabilities. Teachers, boards, and admin types must resolve to promoting the interest and agenda of the student, not their own. All stakeholders are wise to showcase this video and use it to foster genuine inclusion and interest serving the needs of those they serve, THOSE THEY SERVE! Thanks Christian for sharing your courage, carry on smartly…!

  3. Linda Higgins says:

    What a fool that board member is! He doesn’t even know the difference between a discussion and a public comment. He is limiting the free speech of a student at a board meeting. Is it all kids who speak at their meetings that get shut down? Or is it just the kids with diabilities that get shut down?

  4. mariecamp says:

    Make sure this young continues on his quest, go to the state board of education, the media anyone who will make a difference. He has a right to be heard and given what he wants.

  5. Jackie Kettman says:

    Thanks for posting this. I think it succinctly captures the level of animosity and combativeness families typically experience. I shared the link with my Congressional representatives and state school superintendent.

  6. Kris says:

    Some think Christian is talking about “unfair” treatment. What he’s talking about is “illegal” treatment. An IEP is a legal contract, it is not a list of suggestions for a student.
    If a student cannot bring illegal treatment to the attention of the school board something is wrong. The school board chair said is was a “sensitive” issue. It’s only sensitive to the school because they don’t want to follow IEPs. Disability isn’t “sensitive” to those who live with it, it’s their life every day.

  7. Vickie Youngblood says:

    While I understand Rules of Procedure — for heavens sake! Where is the compassion? WHere is the understanding? Where is the empathy? SHAME ON YOU for not letting this young finish.

  8. SELMA PALMER says:

    I RAISE my two great grandkids ….boy nine at high end of spectrum….girl 6 at lower end. you have no idea how this young mans insides and brain were spinning when you as educated officials put him thru the unneeded comments and corrections. !!! This is disguisting behavior from supposed leaders.

  9. theyoushow says:

    IF the teacher (who did the disciplining) was present , I can see them letting him speak . If the teacher wasn’t present, then I can’t see letting him speak. I would have given him a differemt date to speak with the teacher and the if any disciplinarians were present to speak. That would be fair.

    Evne though he speaks well , and even though he should have “his say” , there needs to be all parties (concerned) present for this.

    That is my opinion. (For the record, I do not know any of the parties, I am just saying what I thought is fair).

  10. Kathleen Whelan Ferris says:

    They should have invoked the Sunshine Law!

  11. Pamela Dahl says:

    He was treated very poorly by the Board of Education! I think they need to listen to him and take action!

    – Pam Dahl

  12. Stefani says:

    Obviously if this is happening to one student it’s happening to many others across the country. This isn’t a case of “individual disciplinary action.” It’s school services being called out on their unreliability and their broken promise of a free and appropriate education for ALL STUDENTS. Discrimination against developmental disabilities should not be happening in this day and age, especially in a trusted community institution. Go, Christian! And props to his awesome family.

  13. Ginny Petrillo says:

    I have to say that I agree this student is reporting an issue that his IEP is not being followed at all. It could be his problem or it could be that the teacher is not doing what she’s supposed to do to follow it at all. The teacher made goals that were hard to follow that may be why it isn’t being followed. So this student is speaking up on it to the board and to be cut off by rude comments saying he should follow the rules, the teacher knows what he/she is doing isn’t the right thing to say to this student. This is self advocacy-speaking up for yourself and others. How do you think you would know about this issue here if he didn’t speak up? He’s helping himself and others. If he doesn’t speak up, people can’t help him, something doesn’t get done about a situation either. The board was rude not to let him speak up. It’s not his behavior, to say that this isn’t an issue to talk to the board about is wrong.

  14. Teresa Roberts says:

    This young man is amazing. He was non verbal at one time, and he now can stand in front of the board and talk about his IEP? They clearly used a rule to shut him out. No names were given. A 14 year old boy with Autism is advocating for himself and clearly knows his civil rights are being violated. I now have some inspiration.

  15. VMGillen says:

    Professionals – gotta love ’em (not.) Someone asks if this is all kids, or just kids w/disabilities who get shut down: all kids, and most parents, get shut down when questioning the powers-that-be in public forums. After all, what do “we” know? This is a BIG problem in education: hiding behind the cover of “individual” treatment, they shoot us down one by one – and where we prevail, no one else ever hears about it. I suggest self-advocacy be a part of the curriculum for ALL students.

  16. Melissa Brown says:

    As the parent of a child with similar issues and concerns, I also spoke in front of our Board, Cincinnati Public Schools last week. I had a good experience in that I felt I had finally been “heard.” However, no communication has occurred since, despite my repeated follow-up with both the Board as well as the Superintendent’s office. The “Student Services” Department has not responded to my repeated attempts at righting their many wrongs and despite the federal and state laws that exist to protect my son, we continue to be silenced and thwarted year after year as we continue to watch helplessly his declining education and self-confidence.

  17. Maureen Leone says:

    My son at age 15 in his first year at Garden City HS, was sent home almost everyday after about one hour, I was told if he even “looked funny, he would go home,”, so by December, since he missed so much school work they put him on home study. Which seems to be a pattern in my school district. They put severely disabled children out of their “perfect” school.
    Bravo for your bravery! I hope you keep everyone posted on what happens next.

  18. S. Lyons says:

    I know I am in the minority here, but this was not the right place for a commentary which included accusations that people had not done their jobs. Working within the system is frustrating but it does sound like his formal appeal was being heard. It is a shame that students need to fight for their rights and I do applaud Christian for speaking up, unfortunately, I have to agree with the school board that a public hearing was not the right forum. While the family did not like the response, I thought the school board chair was respectful throughout.

  19. Beckie Austin says:

    This was not a disciplinary issue – it is an issue of an IEP is not being followed. Additionally, they indicated that the superintendant did not return calls. The Board is the Superintendent’s supervisor and certainly can address this situation. Additionally, does the law prohibit this student from speaking to his own situation or to discuss staff etc. Or does it just prohibit the Board from discussing it. So possibly allowing him to speak was not against the law in any way?? I do like that the one lady did try and explain the proper procedure – her tone though was very condescending – if she had been more compassionate – possibly it would have had a better result.

  20. Reah says:

    The only “Innappropriate” thing I heard was another disabled student who is not having their legal rights upheld by a school district, and a brave boy trying to advocate for himself, good Job to him! The “Board” should start looking for new jobs,

  21. T says:

    I work in SPED; in the Disciplinary Determination ARD, the student & the parent should’ve disagreed with the committee’s findings. Then the committee legally has to reconvene. I’ve seen that happen, but I’m not sure what happens next if they reconvene & there’s still disagreement. The parents of the young man need to contact a lawyer. The gentleman may have been correct that the situation couldn’t be talked about in a public forum, but he should’ve offered to move to a private session & allowed him to speak there. Plus, someone had to list him on the agenda in the first place. This was not handled correctly at all!

  22. Sylvia Sanchez-Abreu says:

    There is alot of injustices committed against students with disabilities. Both staff and administrators feel that people with disabilities don;t know when they are being discriminated against. The board of ed. should put children first but they don;t they spend countless of hours in unnecessary topics. I feel these parents should take the young man to the newspaper or 20/20 and tell his story because last I looked we still live in America and people should have freedom of speech. I feel he is being bullied because he is disabled. Trying shushing someone here in the Urban jungle where I live. Sometimes the board meeting allow 25 people to get up and say whatever comment they wish. Remember that the board of ed are elected officials maybe the people of this town need to re think who they want as there elected officials who very clearly care little about the injustices committed against this young man. They are hung up about student discipline but in reality this is about a teacher under the district employment who did not act in the best interest of the student.

  23. abraham says:

    I think if he would have been a little more sensitive he would had let him finish and then In a nice way he couls have told the parents what to do

    shame on him

  24. david says:

    This is a disgrace to not the community but the school board and just what I would expected from our antiquated school board. We need new blood with new ideas and new ways of dealing with and understanding the ever increasing population of disabled individuals. We will continue to see only more of this sort of disgrace until we get rid of the top people running the special education department currently and put in place younger and new blood with current philosophies.

  25. Stephanie says:

    It is absolutely the correct venue for a citizen to air a grievance against public employees who are not doing their jobs or respecting a student’s legal rights. This is not a matter of “fairness” to school employees and whether they are present or not to reply (as already stated, they can’t reply). School employees don’t have any special right to hide from public comments, and he is a citizen and he certainly has the right to speak and to share whatever details of his own school experience and record that he wishes. The school and board may not share them, but he can. The parents are absolutely right. I made many such public comments about my daughter’s school violating her rights under IDEA, as have many, many other parents. In the end, the matter was settled by a very expensive lawsuit, so it is very much in the public interest that parents and their children be heard and that school personnel and boards respond appropriately. It is called democracy. This was a pathetic showing on the part of a very misinformed school board who responded with yet another violation of this student’s rights when he was in the process of standing up for himself in a very appropriate and positive way!

  26. Estela Bilbao-Love says:

    The sad truth of the sickness our society currently has,
    We no longer educate to learn. The schools distric behaves like corporation. Communities no longer have the right to a fair communication for a better future.
    This man should be removed instantly from the school district board for lack of ethical, moral behavior. School have been created to assist kids to be empower to be good citizens of this modern society.
    This mans behaves with ignorance that is dangerous due to the emotional impact that can create in another human. The school district does not have a clue of the challenges in communication, social interaction and learning that this new generation of kids with Autism have. Moreover, this kids are victims of a system that only wants profit and don’t care about the people or community. The system is very sick. The solution is more of this kind of expression and request of change in a democratic & co-creative way. No more abuse from people like this ignorant

  27. Heidi schlossberg says:

    Speaking as a parent of 3 kids age 25, 21, and 15 who ALL have learning disabilities and having lived and had them educated most of their lives in MA, the state with the BEST special educational services I can speak with authority when I say that if CA schools GAVE parents and children their due rights under the law, they wouldn’t feel the need to SPEAK at a board meeting like this.. There IS no real legitimate venue where children and parents are able to get educational justice in CA. I spent 10 years in CA and the system is RIGGED all the way up to OAH ( office of admin hearings) EVEN for the minority of parents who HAVE the resources to hire lawyers…to think they can get justice outside this venue is just plain NAIVE.I won 3 rounds with a district ,WON 3 rounds with these criminals , and still my kid and our family LOST due to all the upheaval and losses of friends and depression. And the real problem is these heads of districts NEVER get held personally accountable..its like the NSA…..

  28. John says:

    This is ridiculous and inappropriate. The board should not have done that. They should be punished or fired, or both. But this happens rarely. To say that this happens to everyone on the spectrum is just as ridiculous. I am on the spectrum, and I have gotten fair treatment for years. Like I said, it is impossible to determine how a group acts because of a select few.

  29. Kirsty says:

    This is disgusting

  30. Peter Attwood says:

    They seem to be forgetting that the US Constitution, Amendment 1, forbids abridging the right to petition government officials for redress of grievances. It is likely that the New York State Constitution says much the same thing

  31. Cheryl says:

    This is really sad! I cannot stand this rediculous outburst that “he” has about “publicly discussing” these issues that continually are going on behind clothes doors! Christian has a right to speak his mind and the “BOARD” as they may be should go in and investigate this issue. Man, I would go all the way to the US Department of Education/ Congress and whoever will listen! I do not play when children’s IEP’s are not being adheard to nor when children are continually falling through the cracks!

  32. Christopher Eckman says:

    “But just minutes into Ranieri’s speech, the teen was cut off by board president Stephen Waldenburg who said that disciplinary matters could not be discussed at the public meeting.” Why? Are they hiding something? This student has the right to voice his concerns. If his IEP wasn’t being followed and he was being inappropriately treated, then something is certainty wrong and needs to be addressed.

  33. Monica McLennan says:

    Free and APPROPRIATE EDUCATION! Appropriate-suitable or proper in the circumstances! I am so sick of this! Why do we constantly have to argue and battle to allow our children to receive Fair and Just treatment! This is just plain ignorance and denial! I always try to work with everyone but it seems as though NO ONE is willing to listen and actually HEAR what we have to say. Never anything but False Promises for our children. It is time to educate individuals in a manner that is appropriate for their method of learning! Please learn how to adapt! What if it was YOUR Child!?!

  34. parent says:

    Opinions and policies are mere habits of thoughts and actions. They are also ingenious tactics for stalling and overall avoidance…

    Still, they don’t trump law…

    Legally, the board must provide how their decision was just, but only upon the insistence of an attendee. If they can’t or refuse to immediately produce this in writing, then he must be allowed to speak, as it is his legal right…

    But if no one insisted to “see it” immediately, in writing…then the board’s disgusting methods were successful…

    Still legally, said insistence can too come, after-the-fact…as well, it should…
    Which could prove most effective for this amazing self-advocate to pose his concerns in a manner that can’t be perceived as defaming or slanderous…

    If he learns to cite the legal “how’s, why’s and where’s” throughout his revelations to the board and audience, then his voice would possess a mighty arsenal…

    School boards are know the First Ammendment, but often don’t know the laws that overlap…and neither do parents…LEARN THE LAWS THAT OVERLAP, disabled or not, these laws protect us all…

    Speaking effectively at a school board meeting without first being versed in the legalities of their “policies” and “opinions” is futile…much like bringing a knife to a gunfight…

    It isn’t right, but obviously it doesn’t matter…

    Don’t just know your rights, be able to cite and provide them in writing…only then will their mouths shut, ears open and heads spin…

    Hope this intelligent, passionate and brave teen chooses to keep at it until he’s heard and all the wrongs are righted…

  35. Carrie Sull says:

    The IDEA specifically instructs how to address the experiences of this young man. He was absolutely fantastic and I bawled while watching the video, as he is truly reminiscent of my 13yr old son.

    Here’s the thing, mom and dad SHOULDVE known that a school board meeting was an inappropriate venue. Despite all he’s had to endure, unfortunately his bullies have rights too and you better believe they’ll exercise said rights…
    Yes, due process and mediation pretty much gets ya’ black-balled, but the board isn’t the answer. Mom and dad should’ve encluraged their son to post directly on YouTube and call on the media. They could’ve helped their son to implore legal experts for pro bono representation.

    Mom and dad should’ve known better. The IDEA isn’t difficult to access or comprehend, they should’ve known better.

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