Feds probe school's shock treatments

Feb. 25, 2010 at 1:51 PM

CANTON, Mass., Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Federal officials said they are looking into whether a Massachusetts special needs school violates the law by using electrical shocks to discipline students.

The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton will be subjected to its first federal investigation following complaints from more than 30 disability rights organizations nationwide, the Boston Globe reported Thursday.

The groups said in a September 2009 letter the center's use of "painful and dehumanizing behavioral techniques violates all principles of human rights.'' They want to end the facility's shock therapy use, which state investigations so far have been unable to do.

The school's approximately 200 students have emotional issues, autism or developmental disabilities. Some are at risk of hurting themselves or have criminal records. They wear electrodes attached to their skin, and staff members can administer a two-second electrical shock through a remote hand-held device, the Globe reported.

Any child who gets skin-shocks does so only under a court-approved plan, said Michael Flammia, a lawyer for the Rotenberg Center.

The U.S. Justice Department's Disability Rights Section will look into whether the Rotenberg Center is in violation of laws on the fair treatment of disabled people, said Renee Wohlenhaus, the department's deputy chief.

Polyxane Cobb, a member of the Coalition for the Legal Rights of People with Disabilities in Boston, said she expects the inquiry to be meaningful and is hopeful the Justice Department will stop the shock discipline.

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