Monday, May 7, 2012

Trial Ends, Rotenberg Center Will Continue Shocking Students

Discipline Policy at Your Schoo? (Image from Flickr, by Fung.Leo)
A lawsuit against the Judge Rotenberg Education Center (JRC), in Canton, MA, came to a close on April 24. The lawsuit was filed by Cheryl McCollins, whose autistic son, Andre, was shocked 31 times over the course of several hours at the school.

The Rotenberg Center is a “special needs” school that openly uses “aversion” therapy, including electric shocks, to discipline its students. According to a former teacher at the school (who has started a petition to end the practice), teachers are instructed to shock students for infractions as insignificant as closing their eyes while at their desks, tearing an empty cup, or standing up when asking to use the rest room.

JRC’s website says that aversion therapy is only used when positive therapies have failed and only with parental, medical, psychiatric and human rights approval. Then, students are equipped with wired backpacks which teachers can activate to deliver shocks when desired. A 2007 expose in Mother Jones found that half of the school’s 234 students were wired for electroshocks. JRC is the only facility in the nation that disciplines students with electroshocks.

JRC, which charges parents $220,000 per year, has 900 employees and annual revenues in excess of $56 million. The school has been around for 36 years and, in that time, 6 of its wards have died, prompting numerous lawsuits.

The terms of the most recent settlement were not disclosed, according to the Boston Herald, but the McCollins family was presumably offered money, while the school did not admit any guilt and will be allowed to continue the “therapies,” which it continues to maintain are beneficial for some students.

The state of Massachusetts has twice tried to shut the facility down, according to the MoJo expose. Each time, parents rallied to the school’s defense and it prevailed in court. Several parents interviewed by MoJo not only approved of the shock therapy, but carry shock activators on them to use against their children when they come home to visit, arguing that they are no longer afraid of their children and that the therapy has helped them.

Child Abuse Mills
JRC was created in 1971 by Dr. Matt Israel, who was inspired by work of behaviorist B. F. Skinner. In 1977, he partnered up with Judy Weber, whose son Tobin is severely autistic, to found a sister school in California’s San Fernando Valley. In 1982, the California Department of Social Services filed a 64-page complaint against the school for numerous incidents of child abuse and the school ultimately agreed to stop using “physical” punishments.

The school is still in operation and has been renamed Tobinworld—a $10 million-per-year operation running day schools near Los Angeles and San Francisco. While Israel is no longer directly involved in Tobinworld, he still considers it to be a sister organization, which seems only fair since he recently married Weber.

Israel was forced to step down as head of JRC in 2011 to avoid a prison term for misleading a jury, destroying video evidence and for wrongfully administering electroshocks to two students at JRC.

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