WANTAGH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Hundreds of people have called for the rehiring of an autistic Long Island high school custodian who was terminated for allegedly making threatening statements.
Parents and students want Wantagh school officials to reinstate 45-year-old Mel Turner.
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Turner was allegedly recorded threatening to blow up the school.
Supporters said his comments were made out of frustration after being bullied and teased by a group of students who recorded him screaming back at them.
“He didn’t mean it,” one student said. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“It definitely wasn’t his fault,” student Dylan Tanella said. “He has problems and he can’t control that.”
The custodian has apologized for his comments.
“I’m very sorry, I promise to never say it again, I didn’t mean it,” Turner told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “I think the school should give me a second chance.”
Education officials said they’ll consider rehiring him.
1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reports
Support for the special needs custodian took off on Facebook and YouTube, and by the time a school board meeting was held 900 parents with signs had jammed Wantagh High School’s auditorium in an emotional show of support, CBS 2′s Jennifer McLogan reported.
“He’s autistic. He didn’t mean what he was saying. He was venting, and by venting it gets out his anguish and helps him deal with …,” parent Patrick Ryder said, adding when asked if Turner deserves a second chance, “Absolutely.”
Other parents rallying around Turner said the district can use the incident as a teaching tool, a key to understanding autism and reaching out to bullies.
“This is now a great opportunity to step up and see where the system failed him and what we can accomplish with this,” Brenda St. John told McLogan.
Turner said he was overwhelmed by the support.
“It’s very heartwarming. Nice, proud of it,” he said.
Students said they are hoping to see Turner back on the job soon.
“He’s a great guy,” Kristen Wilson said. “He knows everyone’s birthday, he’s so nice around the school.”
“You can really hear it in his voice, he cares deeply about everyone he talks with, and he shows a lot of conviction,” Ryan Reyes added.
The school board has scheduled a meeting with Turner on Sept. 21 to discuss his future. In the meantime, the community has begun an online foundation for him.
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