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School wins appeal to give disabled students electric shocks

a hallway at Judge Rotenberg Center, with a witch and a student wearing the electric shock device
a hallway at Judge Rotenberg Center, with a witch and a student wearing the electric shock device Image credit: theguardian.com

A school in Massachusetts has won an appeal to issue electric shocks on pupils with disabilities.

The punishment at the Judge Rotenberg Center, Canton was previously banned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but was challenged by the school and a group of parents and guardians of students.

Pupils were given electric shocks to stop them from self-harming and aggressive behaviour, the DC Circuit said this fell into medical regulation’s and is therefore out of the control of the FDA.

In a statement the school said: “With the treatment, these residents can continue to participate in enriching experiences, enjoy visits with their families and, most importantly, live in safety and freedom from self-injurious and aggressive behaviours.”

Parents of the students added in the statement: “We have and will continue to fight to keep our loved ones safe and alive and to retain access to this life-saving treatment of last resort.” 

Judge Rotenberg Center, Canton is the only school in the US using electric shock treatment on its students and has been criticised by a number of disability rights advocates, including Mental Disability Rights International (DRI)

“The idea of using electric shocks to torture children has been recognised as unconscionable around the world,” DRI’s president, Laurie Ahern, told The Guardian.

Defending the punishment institute and treatment founder Matthew Israel previously told ABC News: “The real torture is what these children are subjected to if they don’t have this programme.

“They’re drugged up to the gills with drugs that cause them to be so sedated that they essentially sleep all day.”

Out of the 300 students at Judge Rotenberg Center 55 have been approved for the Graduated Electronic Decelerator shock device which triggers a powerful, painful shock to the skin.

Attorney Max Stern represents parents and guardians of Judge Rotenberg Center.

She told Massachusetts News: “One client of ours is a woman who hit her head against the wall so many times that her retinas were detached.

“It was not until she went to multiple various other institutions, not until she got to JRC and got this treatment that she was able to get this behaviour under control so she could have surgery to make it possible for her to see again.”

A 2016 report conducted by the New York State Education Department revealed students where being subjected to shocks for minor causes and “behaviours that are not aggressive, health dangerous or destructive, such as nagging, swearing and failing to maintain a neat appearance”.

The report added there was no evidence that the school “considers the potential negative effects, such as depression or anxiety that may result from the use of aversive behavioural strategies with certain individual students”

Judge Rotenberg Center’s website says the school  “has provided very effective education and treatment to both emotionally disturbed students with conduct, behaviour, emotional, and/or psychiatric problems, as well as those with intellectual disabilities or on the autism spectrum”.

Forty eight out of the three hundred students at Judge Rotenberg Center are overnight residents.