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New York education officials ban shock therapy

Report on Massachusetts school yields new policy

Katy Byron

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- New York officials voted on Tuesday to prohibit the use of electric shock therapy on students after a report released last week revealed that a Massachusetts school has been electrically shocking its students, nearly half of whom are from New York state.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) report criticizes the Judge Rotenberg Center program that uses "Level III" aversive behavior therapy, which includes body restraint, diet restrictions and electric shock treatments.

Until Tuesday's vote, New York education policy did not explicitly address banning behavior interventions such as shock therapy. Under the new policy, educators must get case-by-case approval from the New York Board of Regents before the use of aversive therapies of any kind.

Seventy-one New York state students attend Judge Rotenberg Center, and their tuition is funded by New York state residents.

Judge Rotenberg Center, a residential, non-profit school in Canton, Massachusetts, specializes in the controversial behavior therapy and treats troubled and mentally disabled youth who often exhibit behavior such as "head-banging, eye-gouging and biting off body parts."

Seventy-seven of Judge Rotenberg Center's students wear fanny packs rigged with an electric shock device, called a graduated electronic decelerator (GED), with shock administration controlled by a staff member.

The Judge Rotenberg Center manufactures the GEDs, which are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and is the only school in the country using them, according to the center.

Using GED treatment on a student requires, first, approval from the student's guardian and home school district, and then a court order, according to both the Judge Rotenberg Center and NYSED.

In April and May, NYSED staff members and three psychologists went to Judge Rotenberg Center and subsequently reported in their review that the GEDs are cause for health and safety concerns.

The report says most students wore the GEDs during the majority of their sleeping and waking hours, including during bathing, and staff members were not sufficiently trained in how to use the device.

In a written statement, the NYSED said, "The department notified JRC that it must immediately take corrective actions to cease certain interventions that threaten the health and safety of students at the school. Failure to do so would affect its approval to serve New York state students."

In a letter sent to New York State Commissioner of Education Richard Mills, Judge Rotenberg Center's representative, Michael Flammia, claimed that two of the psychologists who worked with NYSED officials to review JRC do not have adequate experience or knowledge of aversive behavior therapies to make assessments regarding JRC's program.

Flammia also wrote in his letter, dated May 19, that one of the visits by the authors of the report was unannounced and that questions to NYSED regarding the review and criteria Judge Rotenberg Center were judged on have gone unanswered.

Judge Rotenberg Center has students from 18 states -- including California, New York and New Mexico -- and the District of Columbia.

CNN's Dana Digit contributed to this report.

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