Letters to the Editor

I have two daughters, one autistic, and heard all the testimony in the Rankowski suit. Judge Humphrey's disgraceful decision makes no reference to the fact that Jan has never harmed anyone. Three boys who taunted him on the playground later accused him of throwing rocks when there were none to throw. Principal Powers claimed she found "evidence of mutual wrongdoing," but the bullies suffered no consequences. Weeks of intensive surveillance of Jan ensued, with school staff explicitly directed not to talk to his mother. Staff notes consistently characterized Jan's occasional failure to respond immediately to or make eye contact with adults or other children, and his blunt albeit honest speech ("You're spying on me!"), as "disrespectful"; in fact, these are all characteristics of autism. Staff described his mother as "unresponsive" when in fact she addressed her son's behavioral challenges in productive and compassionate ways - but without the "interventions" of public shaming or physical restraint condoned by the Falmouth district and its consultants. People who work with autistic children must be patient and supportive, not punitive. The only "threat" posed here is to the comfort of those who regard cognitive and developmental difference as something to be extinguished rather than understood.

Kathleen Seidel
1 September 2004

Although Falmouth, Maine is 3,000 miles from my home, I read with interest your coverage of Jan Rankowski's case for an injunction permitting him to play at the Maze Craze. I have a child who, like Jan, has Asperger's Syndrome.

I read that the Falmouth elementary school has a program for non-verbal autistic students. Obviously they don't know how to deal with a verbal one, such as Jan. I think it is ironic that people say they wish autistic kids would talk, but when they meet one who does, they don't like it.

Autistic kids are not driven by a need to please others or to gain the favor of authority figures. They see the world differently from non-autistic people. This is their blessing and their curse. They are unique and wonderful people who have a lot to contribute if given the chance.

My son is leaving for college this month. It hasn't been an easy road. I am proud of his accomplishments and thankful to those at school who were understanding and supportive. I doubt whether he would have done as well in a community where he would be shunned and excluded.

Falmouth school officials have nothing to be delighted about in the result of this case. Whatever Jan accomplishes will be in spite of them. What they have done is hurtful to Jan and to all the people whose lives could be enriched by knowing him.

Anne Bevington
3 September 2004
Reproduced by permission of the author

"Falmouth prevails in autism case", so the article was titled. I would have titled it "Falmouth prevails humanity loses".

I believe that a serious attempt was made by the school to paint Jan Rankowski as a danger to his playmates and a threat to the authority structure on the playground, and a feeble attempt was made to appear to invite him back. Oh, if only the family would only agree to another behavioral assessment, bemoaned the principal.

Oh, if only the principal had taken the time to lead her school in understanding the differences in children who are on the autism spectrum. Oh, if only she had shown Jan the same consideration she showed normal children under her authority who did things like bringing a knife to school and hitting other children. Those children were suspended for around one to three days from the playground and then allowed to come back.

It would appear to be a special case of special exclusion on the part of the school district for special needs children.

Jan can come and play at my house any time.

Camille Clark
4 September 2004
Reproduced by permission of the author

I have two daughters, one autistic, and am the only person not party to the suit (except for your reporter) to hear all the testimony in the Rankowski hearing. Perhaps Barbara Powers' status as wife of a state court judge had something to do with the outcome. Judge Humphrey's decision appears to be drawn verbatim from her testimony and the defense's summation. Reference is made overwhelmingly to defense exhibits and arguments; practically none is made to documentary evidence and testimony offered by the Rankowskis, or by Greggus Yahr, the only professional with experience working with autistic children who has more than a fleeting acquaintance with Jan. No reference was made to the fact that Jan has never harmed anyone, or to the numerous "reflection sheets" documenting incidents of student misconduct and their consequences, which vividly illustrate the excessive nature of the consequences meted out to Jan.

Mrs. Powers contends that Jan poses an "emotional threat" to other children. In fact, emotional abuse by authority figures and peers poses the real threat to children's emotional development. Rejection, humiliation and isolation; castigating Jan for his autistic communicative challenges; consistently describing him in negative terms; burdening him with rigid expectations that take no account of his disability - this is the real "emotional threat." This is out-and-out scapegoating. By banishing Jan from the town playground, school staff and other presumably "normal" people consenting to the expulsion falsely reassure themselves that they have cleansed the community of emotional toxicity that in fact resides in themselves.

Kathleen Seidel
3 September 2004

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