Massachusetts’ Highest Court Looks Into Use of Electric Shocks at Canton School
CANTON — One of the most controversial schools in the country is once again fighting a legal challenge to its continued use of painful electric shocks on students, and has taken its case to the state's highest court.
Founded in 1971 under a different name, the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton is known for the controversial practice of administering electric shocks as a deterrent to students with severe behavioral issues.
No other school is known to use the practice, which has been condemned by a U.N. human rights expert and banned by the FDA — but the center holds a consent decree granted by the courts that has allowed it to be the sole exception.
Now, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is looking at removing or "vacating" the decree, which would make the school subject to licensing and regulation by the state's Department of Developmental Services.
Issued in January 1987, the decree in question restored the center's license to operate following a lawsuit against the department for violating JRC's rights with bad-faith regulation.
Despite multiple attempts over the decades by activists and regulators to close it down, the JRC has continued to operate outside of state control due to the decree.
The controversy mainly focuses on a specific type of electric shock given to students via a device created and manufactured by the school itself.
According to the school, the shocks function as an "aversive," to discourage self-harming or aggressive behaviors in its students, and are only administered as a last resort.
But a damning 2006 report on the JRC from the New York State Education Department found that students were shocked for a wide variety of behaviors, including non-harmful ones like "failing to maintain a neat appearance."
Yet the JRC and its methods have endured thanks in part to lobbying and support from parents and families of the students there, many of whom claim to see positive results, according to an in-depth 2008 Boston Magazine article on the school.
After accepting the case in June this year, the state's highest court will take another look at the JRC's decree.
One lengthy brief from DDS has already been filed and arguments could take place as early as April, according to the SJC docket.