Report Says Disabled Kids Injured by Electric Shocks at Massachusetts School

A state report on a Massachusetts school for the disabled said electric shocks were administered to students — sometimes as they 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.

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

The education department said in a written statement 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."

The center's attorney, Michael Flammia, called the allegations "absolutely not true" and said the state ignored its own November report that determined the center was doing an excellent job. He alleged the most recent evaluation was biased and prompted by a parent's lawsuit.

Education Department spokesman Alan Ray disputed Flammia's characterization of the earlier report, saying that it found compliance only in a limited number of areas.

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 center describes the one- to two-second shocks as similar to a bee sting.

For years, the state has contracted with the facility, where autistic and other disabled students wear backpack-like devices that shock them when they misbehave.

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

"It all comes down to a philosophical opposition to this form of treatment," Flammia said.