School Keeps License to Give Shock Therapy Despite Prank

January 6, 2008

Source: Washington Post

Associated Press

BOSTON -- A special-education school where two emotionally disturbed students were wrongly given dozens of shocks after a prank call will be allowed to use electric-shock treatments on students for another year. But the state's Office of Health and Human Services said the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center must prove it uses shock treatments only for the most dangerous and self-destructive behaviors, and must also show that the treatments reduce those behaviors.

On Aug. 26, someone posing as a supervisor called in shock treatments for two students, ages 16 and 19. The teenagers were awakened in the middle of the night and given the treatments, at times while their legs and arms were bound. One received 77 shocks, and the other received 29. One was treated for two first-degree burns. A state report found that the staff made multiple mistakes when they followed the prank caller's directions. The report by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care said six staffers at a Stoughton residence run by the Canton-based school had reason to doubt the orders to administer the shocks but did nothing to stop them. The six staff members and the video-surveillance worker on duty that night were fired on Oct. 1.

The caller said he was ordering the punishments because the teenagers had misbehaved earlier in the evening. But none of the staffers had witnessed any problems. The report said the caller was a former resident of the center with knowledge of its operations. Police are looking into filing criminal charges. The incident in Stoughton renewed calls by school critics for the state to ban the shock treatments. But state officials said the parents of some residents defend the school and its methods.