Massachusetts school can continue using electric shocks on special needs students, judge rules

Practice has been condemned by disability rights groups and the ACLU

Emily Shugerman
New York
Tuesday 03 July 2018 21:13 BST
The Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts will be allowed to continue administering electric shocks to students
The Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts will be allowed to continue administering electric shocks to students (WCVB)

A Massachusetts school will be allowed to continue administering electric shocks to its special needs students after a judge ruled the procedure conformed to the “accepted standard of care”.

The Judge Rotenberg Centre (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts, is the only school in the US to use the technique, which has been condemned by disability rights organisations, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the United Nations special rapporteur on torture.

The Massachusetts governor’s office sued to stop the practice in 2013. But Judge Katherine Fields of the Bristol County Probate and Family Court, ruled last week that the state failed to demonstrate that the procedure "does not conform to the accepted standard of care for treating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities”.

The JRC is a special needs day and residential school that specialises in treating “emotionally disturbed” children and adults, according to its website. As part of their treatment, some students are given an electric shock from a Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED) when they display an inappropriate behaviour, such as harming themselves or others.

Several parents at the school have called the technique “life-changing”. In a statement to local news station WCVB, an organisation calling itself the JRC Parents Group, said it was happy the court had affirmed a therapy that “improved our children’s quality of life”.

“No one loves our children more than we do," the parents group said. "We have tried and continue to try everything available to them, including positive behaviour therapies and psychotropic medications to help our children.”

"But as the court found – there is no evidence that any alternative treatment would be effective to treat our children and keep them safe."

Backlash against the treatment began in 2012, when video surfaced of 18-year-old Andre McCollins receiving more than two dozen electrical shocks while tied to a bed at the centre in 2002.

Mr McCollins mother, Cheryl McCollins, settled a lawsuit against the school for an undisclosed amount in 2012. JRC claims it has significantly changed its procedures since then.

But the treatment was met with protests from disability rights group ADAPT as recently as this month, when advocates picketed outside the home of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

The protesters wanted the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to push forward A proposed regulation banning the practice, which the agency said in 2016 posed an “unreasonable and substantial risk” to public health.

“They have been sitting on these regulations for more than two years,” said Philadelphia ADAPT organiser German Parodi in a press release, “and they can stop this atrocity now with the stroke of a pen.”

Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders must now decide whether to appeal Judge Fields’ decision, according to WCVB.

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