Kids hurt in shock therapy school
By Michael Gormley, Associated Press Writer, Boston Globe, June 14, 2006

ALBANY, N.Y. --A state report on conditions at a school for the disabled documented "skin shocks" -- sometimes administered while students bathed -- for offenses as minor as nagging, swearing and sloppy appearance. "Various injuries to students have been reported" at the Judge Rotenberg Center, according to the report released Wednesday by the New York Education Department.

"Absolutely not true," said the center's attorney, Michael Flammia.

He said the state ignored its own November report that stated the center did an excellent job. That opinion changed after one New York parent complained and sued, Flammia said. In the spring New York's Education Department sent another team, but Flammia said the evaluators were biased against shock treatment and failed to conduct a fair or thorough review.

"The parents do not want this treatment stopped," he said.

The state Education Department never gave the school an "excellent" report, said Alan Ray, an agency spokesman.

An initial review found the center was in compliance on a limited number of areas, but officials planned an unscheduled visit to the school after the department received more complaints, Ray said.

That visit resulted in the new report.

The school in Canton, Mass., receives $50 million a year from Albany to care for and educate about 150 youths because there is no space available in New York for the intensive treatment.

The education department is calling for corrective action. The school must "cease certain interventions that threaten the health and safety of students at the school. Failure to do so would affect its approval to serve New York state students," according to the a written statement.

The study also criticized the school's "combined use of mechanical restraints and simultaneous application of skin shock" to some students. In addition, "many students were observed as they arrived to and from school wearing leg and wrist restraints."

In addition, the Education Department said workers at the center weren't prepared or trained to handle "challenging emotional and behavioral problems" of the youths.

"It all comes down to a philosophical opposition to this form of treatment," Flammia said. He said the center will fight the accusations. All other parents prefer the treatments to heavy medication, he said.

The Rotenberg Center provides an intensive, 24-hour program that begins with a typical school setting, but about half the residents require the "aversive therapy" of electric shock, according to Rotenberg staff. The weekly shock of one or two seconds each is similar to being pinched as hard as possible, or like a bee sting.

For years, the state has contracted with the facility, where disabled students wear backpack-like devices that provide shocks of varying duration when they misbehave.

The use of electric shocks for corporal punishment is illegal in New York state, but New Yorkers can be subject to the practice at Rotenberg with the approval of parents, the local New York school district, and a court. The Rotenberg Center has been on the education department's list of schools approved for the disabled, where New York's autistic and other disabled youths can be sent because of a shortage of facilities in New York.

Some New York parents said electric shock helped change their children's behavior for the better. Some of the youths had repeatedly bitten themselves or slammed their heads against walls so violently there was a concern they could blind themselves.

Billy's Law, signed last year, seeks to provide space in facilities to treat these youths in New York.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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