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School Board States Confidentiality Issues Forced Halt to Autistic Teen's Speech

A 14-year-old was cut off from speaking about his alleged mistreatment due to his disability during a school board meeting Monday.

Northport-East Northport School Board. Patch file photo.
Northport-East Northport School Board. Patch file photo.
In a statement, Northport-East Northport Board of Education President Stephen Waldenburg said that he sympathizes with and applauds Christian Ranieri for speaking up during a school board meeting Monday, but that parts of the teen's presentation about his alleged mistreatment due to his autism, hinged on privacy breaches.

In his speech, Ranieri, 14, said that he was trying to self-advocate for his rights after his individualized education plan and behavior intervention plan were not implemented correctly and he suffered the consequences of being suspended for two days from school when he raised his voice in class out of frustration from the prolonged issue.

Since the incident was not written up in his mandated behavior sheet, and because privacy laws bar school staff members from discussing individual behavioral issues in public, it is unclear what took place that day from the teacher’s perspective.

"As the Board of Education President, I felt it was appropriate for Christian to share his thoughts about his personal development and his work as a youth ambassador for the New York State Self-Advocacy Association. 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 wrote.

Though Ranieri did not mention any specific names in his speech, the school board president stopped Ranieri from speaking twice, stating that a public meeting was the inappropriate audience for what appeared to be a personal, behavioral matter. 

"I explained to Christian and those in attendance that under the law, student disciplinary matters are confidential. It was my conclusion, supported by our legal counsel at the table, that Christian’s revelation of this information was inappropriate because it potentially compromised the pending disciplinary matter and revealed personal protected information. As a result, I had to insist that he not provide any more information about it," Waldenburg said.

Ranieri's parents defended their son's actions, stating that as a member of the public, their son was there to tell his story of what he felt to be discrimination based on his disability and his efforts to self-advocate, but was not asking for the board to discuss the details of the incident in public.

"The Board of Education always has and always will support the public’s voice, be they students or any community members. We are also committed to protecting personal rights as defined by the law, particularly those in which the Board is empowered to be the ultimate arbiter. 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," Waldenburg said.

Since Monday, Ranieri has experienced at outpouring of support from the community. Video footage of the board meeting has also garnered more than 20,000 views on YouTube as of Thursday morning. 

"The feedback has overwhelmingly positive," Carina Ranieri, the teen's mother, said. "For those who know our family, we hold Christian's emotional well being above all else. Never in a million years did we think this would result from Christian speaking at the BOE. This was purely a therapeutic issue. He wanted to be heard by those who make the decisions in the district. If we at any point we imagined that he would be brushed aside, we would never have allowed for him to go on Monday night. He has been put through enough stress since school began." 

Click here to read Raneri’s full speech.

A Taxpayer October 10, 2013 at 07:24 AM
Mr. Waldenburg's explanation is absurd. He clearly violated this person's rights under the US Constitution's First Amendment to speak his mind about the actions of government as a whole and about the agents of government, in this case Northport HS officials. This is constitutionally protected speech. Why anyone would think a BOE policy or any law would trump a person's basic civil rights is scary. The BOE is prohibited from discussing in public a students' personal information. But, the speaker did not ask the BOE to discuss anything. He merely was trying to make a statement. I would encourage anyone interested in this situation to read this week's issue of The Observer. I have a feeling, it will not be too kind to Mr. Waldenburg or Mrs. McDermott, who has a history of being extremely nasty to district residents who state an opinion contrary to hers. The fact Mr. Waldenburg and the rest of the BOE let the superintendent get away with it is just one more reason why all 9 BOE members should be replaced as they come up for re-election.
cathie josephson October 10, 2013 at 08:14 AM
Well said tax payer. Trying to make any public statement at BOE mtgs in this district is always difficult unless it is what they want to hear and like i have said before if its a good thing, a parent praising the district they never cut you off, they clapp and give u awards! I have heard parents say names many times - but it wasnt a negative so they are never cut off. Rules, policies shld go both ways. No wonder the board meetings are so poorly attended, no one is allowed to voice their opinion ao it doesnt matter. Its their way or the highway.
BMW October 10, 2013 at 10:01 AM
You know that I feel horrible that he was not allowed to speak his peice. I support him 100%! And I hate to have to share what I am about to say, but there are federal & state laws on open government and where they do and do not apply. The NYS board of education association also states that there is no law that any board has to allow the public in their meetings and if they do, their is now law forcing them to have a public forum where the public can speak. And again, our school has their policy posted. Its important that you know and understand these rights moving foward in the future, so we can better advocate for our kids. I'm sorry. :-(
Christine Healy Walsh October 10, 2013 at 11:10 AM
It has been several days since the student advocated for his needs. Has the school addressed the students concerns yet?
Sean October 10, 2013 at 11:17 AM
Are we supposed to believe Mr. Waldenburg's statement? This is a classic example of the board and admistration circling the wagons and protecting one of there own. I applaud the young man for trying to be heard. No matter how you cut it he won and showed that Mr. Waldenburg and Dr McDermott bullied a young man trying to find his voice. Over a century ago there was a young woman who could not speak,see or hear. Her name was Helen Keller and she found her voice. To Christian don't let anyone stop you from hearing your voice
BMW October 10, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Am am glad that his parents allowed his letter to be published. I think it was by far a better choice. I do hope that he will still be able to read the peice he has prepared at an exectutive board meeting. I also pray that they re examin the information and remove the suspension from his perminant record. He deserves a written appology from the district as a reward for his tireless efforts to make his voice be heard. He only wanted to follow his IEP program. He committed no crime here. And I hope after this is resolved they make sure every educator that works with Christian in his school building has the proper training needs to follow the rules as written in his programs. I had the pleasure to meet him at the board meeting and he touched my soul. He is a beautiful person and deserves respect. Keep on going Christian. Its going to be okay. :0)
Rich October 10, 2013 at 01:05 PM
We need to remember that the main focus of this event should be the fact that his IEP was not being properly followed. That is something that needs to be addressed, and promptly, both for him and all students who have one. I would hope the School Board will look into that, quickly and thoroughly, since it has an effect on many children in our communities various schools. Unfortunately, I do not have confidence that the Board will do this, without a lot of urging from the public.
newdawn October 11, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Waldenburg is correct! It is AGAINST the law to discuss disciplinary issues at a public board meeting. Period! Sounds like this kid is a disciplinary problem. Maybe he should try BEHAVING in class!
gratefulmom44 October 12, 2013 at 05:22 PM
Before posting, I had the opportunity to watch what actually happened and to read the speech this child was trying to finish. To Christian, administrators and teachers will let you down in life you continue to advocate for yourself. There are many who commend you for doing the right thing. Tell your parents they did a great job raising you. To the BOE especially Mr. Waldenburg, you made a complete fool out of your self. I don't know why you joined the board and volunteer your time if you really don't care about the children and the community at large. Or do you only care about the typical children and not the disabled who are more challenging? This young man was not interested in you discussing what happened to him. He simply wanted you to listen to him. He didn't want to discuss disciplinary issues, HE WANTED TO BE HEARD and UNDERSTOOD. You violated his constitutional rights. If you allow one to speak you must allow the other. He didn't say names of teachers. As for FERPA, you can't share his name to the listening public but he is certainly able to waive his own right to privacy. Who are you kidding, you just didn't want to have your staff look foolish. I can tell you if you violated my sons IEP and then wouldn't let him speak and after a week I still had no meeting date, I would have already filed a state complaint. BTW your administrator looked like an ___( you can fill it in) when she stood behind that I have 10 days to respond to your letter __. Yes she legally does but just because she does doesn't mean she should. Thats not whats in the best interest of this child. VOTE THIS BOARD OUT. To bad we can't get rid of the admin as well. Oh and where is the Special Ed Admin that lets a month go by without a BIP being enforced. SHAME ON YOU ALL.
Michael Rosenfeld October 12, 2013 at 09:16 PM
So he used to not be able to speak but now he can speak and overcame a huge obstacle I guess the 'horrible' school district had nothing to do with thaaattt...
gratefulmom44 October 12, 2013 at 11:31 PM
@Michael R. ask yourself why you find the need to defend a school district instead of the rights of a child? This boy never said he didn't receive an education, what he said was that he wanted to continue to receive one but that since his IEP and BIP were not being implemented (which is a violation of the law) he doesn't have the same access to FAPE (free and appropriate public education) as his peers. I repeat my original statement Dr. McDermott and the BOE should be ashamed of their behavior. SHAME ON YOU ALL.
A Taxpayer October 13, 2013 at 08:35 AM
Couldn't agree with you more, Grateful Mom. Mr. Waldenburg and Mrs. McDermott made complete fools of themselves and the rest of the BOE is complicit since they sat on their hands and said nothing in defense of this 14 year old boy's right to speak. Disgraceful.
newdawn November 14, 2013 at 01:24 PM
Sorry taxpayer, but the kid was out of order. Every whining kid cannot disrupt a public school board meeting. He violated the rules of engagement. As a taxpayer, I stand by MR Waldenburg!

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