Big, and fantastic, news out of Massachusetts, where education officials, State Attorney General Margaret Coakley, and others are making a move to regulate the notorious Judge Rotenberg Center more closely, reacting to public outcry over the school’s controversial use of shock “treatment” on disabled students. This decision was made in part because of people like you, almost 12,000 of whom signed a petition here to demand closure of the Judge Rotenberg Center.
While regulation isn’t closure, it’s the first step in a closer investigation of the school and one that will lead to safer conditions for students — and, possibly, an eventual decision to shut the school down if it doesn’t meet standards and provide students with the best possible learning environment.
What, exactly, are officials doing here?
Coakley filed a motion last week to vacate a court order that has allowed the Judge Rotenberg Center to stand outside regulatory scrutiny since 1987. Fun fact: the school was renamed from the Behavioral Research Institute to the Judge Rotenberg Center in the 1990s for the very judge who limited government authority over the school with that court order in response to attempts to shut it down in the late 1980s. Under the court order, the school’s questionable educational practices were allowed to continue, and the state agencies who normally oversee facilities like the Judge Rotenberg Center had their hands tied.
Coakley and advocates want to see that change, and filing the motion is a signal that the Judge Rotenberg Center will finally face consequences for using electric shocks on its students, a practice unique to the facility that has triggered expressions of concern by the United Nations, Department of Justice, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (who are refusing to pay for services at facilities that offer shock treatment, depriving the Center of federal funds). The school, of course, intends to oppose the state’s action, and has already rallied on the defensive, enlisting parents as well as others who support the school’s mission who argue it should remain open.
The state, and disability rights activists, remain unimpressed. Massachusetts officials believe shock therapy is no longer in line with current methods of working with disabled students, including those with severe behavioral disturbances, and would like to see the Judge Rotenberg Center held to the same accountability standards as other schools, if it is to remain open at all. Meanwhile, human rights activists and disability rights activists are concerned about the overall culture of the school as a whole, wondering if perhaps the time of abusive “treatment” like that offered at the Judge Rotenberg Center, which maintains an extremely harsh educational environment, should be made a thing of the past.
Thanks to the hard work of people like you, the Judge Rotenberg Center is finally on the hot seat. Keep the pressure on, and let’s put an end to the abuse of disabled students in school!
Image credit: Bart Everson