School Known For Shocking Students With Special Needs Gets Coronavirus Relief Funds
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, a controversial Massachusetts facility serving those with disabilities that was recently banned from using electric shock devices, is getting over a million dollars in coronavirus relief funds.
Announced Monday, $16.1 million in relief went to 32 special education residential school providers in Massachusetts to support costs related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Canton-based Judge Rotenberg Educational Center will receive $1,763,017 of that.
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As many students were sent home from schools in March due to the pandemic, these residential schools, including the New England Center for Children and the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, were unable to do that.
For these schools, closing down isn’t always an option.
“(They) have no alternative,” Vinnie Strully, CEO of the New England Center for Children, told WBUR. “They cannot live safely at home, and some do not have a home.”
But many advocates have long been against the methods used at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center — often calling on the state to intervene.
In March, the Food and Drug Administration banned electrical stimulation devices used for self-injurious or aggressive behavior. The devices are used at one facility in the country — the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center.
But advocates looked to the state for more.
“A ban will do nothing to undo the decades of torture that people confined to JRC have had to suffer through until now,” said Lydia Brown, associate for disability rights and algorithmic fairness at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Tech Law and Policy. “And Massachusetts has a responsibility to make reparations to the survivors.”
The facility introduced these types of devices in the 1980s, Mother Jones reported. Since then many advocates have spent decades speaking out against their use. The facility has had numerous news articles written about their practices, including stories from MassLive, a number of court cases and a 2012 viral video that shows a student screaming and asking for them to stop.
“That hurts. That hurts,” the student can be heard saying in a panicked voice. “Stop. Stop for real.”
Prior to the ban, JRC reported to the FDA it shocked students less than once a week on average.
The FDA ruled the devices cause a number of significant psychological and physical risks, “including worsening of underlying symptoms, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, pain, burns and tissue damage.”
Since this ruling, Disability Justice attorney Shain Neumeier wanted Massachusetts to work with students and their caregivers to find community-based options outside of JRC.
“They should be finding people places in the community where they can live independently,” Neumeier said. “Where they can get past this and receive services with their families and friends.”
JRC has not released how many students the school still uses electrical stimulation devices on, and the FDA ban allowed for a transition time for all students involved. The JRC Parents Association and JRC also said they will fight the FDA’s decision.
Gov. Charlie Baker toured a different residential school, the New England Center for Children in Southborough, on Monday. It teaches, houses and supports more than 120 students with special needs.
“The commonwealth’s special education residential schools do tremendous work educating and supporting students with special needs,” Baker said, according to State House News Service. “The ability this community has shown to adapt to maintain a safe environment for students in their care and for their 24/7 staff has been a godsend. The schools incurred unanticipated costs related to the purchase of personal protective equipment, infection control measures, increased staffing costs and enhanced cleaning protocols over that period. We know this is difficult work, and we know that so many people, time and time again, found a way to simply get it done.”
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