WANTAGH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A beloved autistic custodian is getting his job back at a Long Island school.
Mel Turner was fired from his part-time job in the Wantagh School District for allegedly making threatening statements.
A group of teenagers that had apparently been taunting the custodian recorded a video of Turner losing his cool and threatening to blow up the school.
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On Friday, the school board voted to reinstate Turner. However, he is suspended with pay pending the outcome of a psychological evaluation.
If the doctor finds Turner is not a threat, he will continue as custodian.
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The 42-year-old has apologized for the remarks and said he erupted after years of being bullied by teenagers.
“I feel great now that they’re giving me a second chance,” Turner said after the ruling was made. “I’m sorry; I would never do something like that. I feel heartbroken that I did something like that. I just feel bad and I promise I’ll never do it again.”
His firing led to a public outcry from the community.
Supporters said his comments were made out of frustration.
“We’re going to meet with the doctor [who] evaluates Mel. He meets standards to be working in the school district, that’s where he will stay. But a message needs to go out,” Wantagh parent and autism advocate Patrick Ryder told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan.
Wantagh parents and children said the message is one of understanding and acceptance. Jerry James Kehagias is a special needs student who said he’s suffered similar taunting.
“As for Mel, I can relate to him, because I have been bullied from when I was 5 to here,” Kehagias said.
The school district said it will introduce an anti-bullying curriculum and Turner will receive guidance.
“I learn how not to get angry too quick, talk it out,” Turner said.
“How proud I am to be a member of this community. How proud I am that I grew up here and went to this school, and to see everyone come together for Mel,” Wantagh resident Linda Connor said.
Turner has walked to his job every day, has never called in sick and knows everyone’s birthday.
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