Aftershock: ‘Torture’ v. Treatment, Act II


For almost a year New York State education officials wrestled with what to do about the Judge Rotenberg Center, the Massachusetts school that uses skin shocks and other “aversive therapies” to address severe behavioral problems in its retarded, autistic, or otherwise challenged students, most of whom hail from the Empire State. On Monday, the state Regents passed rules that stop any new students from getting aversive treatment after June 30, 2009.

These were dubbed “final” regulations. But that might be a bit of a misnomer.

Both defenders and detractors of the Rotenberg Center are moving to fix what they see as fatal flaws in the new rules. State Senator Martin Golden has re-introduced a bill that bans skin shocks on any student receiving public funding (New York State and local school districts share the $200,000 cost of treating and housing a student at Rotenberg). A lawsuit against Freeport Union school district, which claims that a local student was shocked excessively by Rotenberg, is going forward. Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit—which alleges that it is illegal for New York City to fund any student at Rotenberg in the absence of a written contract—may get new life on appeal. A lower court judge threw the lawsuit out, but the plaintiffs were cheered that the decision noted, “it appears the arrangement was without authority.” (It also said, however, that, “There is no evidence of fraud … or bad faith.”)

On the other side, parents of students at Rotenberg who sued the state this summer to block the application of the Regents’ temporary restrictions are planning to go to court again and ask that an earlier restraining order be expanded to include the new rules. The restraining order limits the application of the New York restrictions on their children while the case is pending.