New York Report Blasts Rotenberg Aversive Programs
ALBANY, NEW YORK--New York education officials are scheduled to vote today on whether to severely restrict the use of painful punishments on New York students housed at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts and facilities in other states.
The New York State Education Department released a report in early June that sharply criticizes the aversive techniques used to change the behavior of most of the 150 students that the state sends to the Rotenberg Center.
The NYSED report was based on a review of written data, interviews, and direct observations that a team of New York education officials made during surprise visits to JRC in April and May. That review was prompted in part by recent complaints of mistreatment at the facility and a $10 million lawsuit that a New York mother filed against her home state for allowing JRC to mistreat her son.
Among other things, the team raised concerns over an electric skin shocking device called a "graduated electronic deceleration" device or GED, which is the residential institution's most commonly-used aversive method. While JRC officials defend the use of the GED to control the most self-destructive of behaviors, the New York team found that some of the students were administered shocks -- similar to a hard pinch or bee sting -- for such things as "nagging", "failure to maintain a neat appearance", "interrupting others", "slouch in chair", "stopping work for more than 10 seconds", and "whispering and/or moving conversation away from staff".
The NYSED reviewers found that students were sometimes shocked while being punished in other ways. One student's behavior program, for example, called for him to receive 5 jolts from the GED over a 10-minute period while being strapped to a 4-point restraint board.
Some of the students were forced to carry with them their own restraint straps in case they were needed.
In addition to the shocks and restraints, the surveyors learned that some behavior plans called for students to "earn" their meals through "behavior contracts". Meal portions for those who failed to meet their contracts were thrown out. Those findings were consistent with earlier allegations that some students had been grossly underfed at the facility.
The team found that -- even though New York school districts pay more than $200,000 a year to send a student to JRC -- the facility's staff lacked the training and expertise needed to work with the students, who carry diagnoses such as post traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mental retardation, and autism.
According to the report, staff engaged in what were called "behavioral rehearsal lessons", at which times students were provoked into performing a target behavior specifically so the students would be punished. In one instance, a staff member reportedly held a student's face as another motioned toward his mouth with an ink pen or pencil, threatening to stab the student in the mouth while repeatedly yelling "You want to eat this?" Sometimes students would be punished for appropriate behaviors, but with less intensity or frequency than for targeted behaviors.
The reviewers concluded that there is little evidence that JRC tried to fade their highly restrictive behavior interventions, or work to integrate the students in more inclusive environments. Such failures may violate the students' rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, along with New York and Massachusetts education laws, the surveyors noted.
JRC officials denounced the report, calling its claims "completely false" and calling the review team "biased".
Next Monday, New York education officials are scheduled to vote on whether to severely restrict the use of painful punishments on New York students housed at JRC and facilities in other states.
"State: Kids hurt in shock therapy school" (Newsday)
"N.Y. report denounces shock use at school" (Boston Globe)
"Study: Observations and Findings of Out-of-State Program Visitation -- Judge Rotenberg Educational Center" (New York State Education Department - PDF file)