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Judge Rotenberg Center Staff Credentials

more data from the NYSED Review:

The majority of staff in the “alternative learning centers” and “small conference rooms” are Mental Health Aides (MHA’s). (JRC employs a total of 386 MHAs and 254 Mental Health Relief Aides in the school and residences. Most of these individuals, 468 of the total 640 MHAs and Mental Health Relief Aides, have completed only a high school education.)…

JRC’s psychologists or clinicians develop student behavior programs. JRC’s psychology department lists a total of 17 clinicians. Of these clinicians, although 12 have some doctoral level training in psychology, only four have licensure from the State of Massachusetts as Psychologist Providers, one is licensed as a psychologist in another state and one has a license as an Educational Psychologist. A high level of competence in psychology and behavior analysis is necessary for ethical practice when the most intrusive and aversive procedures are used in the treatment of children with behavior problems as complex and challenging as many who are approved for Level III aversive behavioral interventions at JRC…

Staff development is provided via a) 2-week orientation, and b) 30 mandated hours of in-service training. A review of the staff development plan indicates minimal, if any, training on student characteristics; functional behavioral assessments; reinforcement; shaping or other behavioral techniques used for increasing positive social behavior; and educational supports that include instructional methods and curriculum. Staff receives one hour of training on collecting and graphing data, but no required training on positive teaching procedures. In addition, all staff appears to receive the same training, regardless of their particular function (e.g., teachers do not necessarily receive additional training in educational supports; QA team members do not necessarily receive training in behavior analysis)….

During the May 16-18 site visit, it was confirmed that the majority of staff serving as classroom teachers at JRC are not certified teachers. One crisis classroom teacher the team spoke to has a high school diploma and had acquired college credits through distance learning Internet courses.

During the initial site visit, the team reviewed the credentials of the teaching staff in the 21 classrooms at JRC:

– One is certified/licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Education (MDOE) as a special education teacher;
– Eleven have academic waivers for teaching “moderate disabilities” or “severe disabilities” from MDOE; and
– Nine have no certification, licensure or MDOE academic waivers to teach special education.

The above couple paragraphs should scare you. Teaching is an extremely hard job. Teaching a classroom of ordinary children is incredibly stressful and difficult; dealing with special needs kids is infinitely worse. It is not something you can extrapolate from experience with ordinary disruptive children; you cannot just scale up the techniques used on an ordinary student who often breaks rules to one whose disruptive behaviour is rooted in autism, bipolar, an anxiety disorder, or similar. The obvious response that would work on a neurotypical kid often does nothing, at best, and has a good chance of actively making things worse when applied to someone with severe psychological problems.

This is why specialized training is important – handing children with severe special needs (remember, a big chunk of JRC kids ended up there after a stay in a psychiatric hospital – these aren’t your garden-variety super ADHD kids) over to people who only have a normal teaching certificate is profound negligence at best, and putting them in the care of “teachers” with only a high school degree is potentially dangerous.

Of particular note is that the teachers aren’t trained in instructional methods or the school curriculum, which begs the question: what are they actually teaching? Apparently, they don’t teach much of anything. The staff/student interaction is apparently limited to this:

Classroom visitations by the review team revealed that limited interactions occur between students or between staff and students. The main interactions witnessed involved staff rotating GED electrodes, as required for GED safety, on students’ bodies when an alert, set at hourly intervals, instructed staff to rotate the electrodes. The rotation of electrodes is necessary to prevent skin burns that may result from repeated application of the shock to the same contact point on the student’s body.
Other observed interactions involved staff making rote statements regarding the student’s behavior program, such as “turn around and keep working” or limited social praise “good eating.”

Note that “education” or “role-modeling” is not on that list. So if they aren’t teaching the students anything academic, then they’re at least providing basic therapy and training, like social skills, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational training, and so on, right? Wrong. In fact, RJC goes out of their way to deny access to therapy to children who need it.

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Judge Rotenberg Center Restraints

Movement limitation is another commonly used Level III intervention that may be applied manually or mechanically. When applied manually, staff members physically hold the student. With mechanical movement limitation the student is strapped into/onto some form of physical apparatus.

For example, a four-point platform board designed specifically for this purpose; or a helmet with thick padding and narrow facial grid that reduces sensory stimuli to the ears and eyes. Another form of mechanical restraint occurs when the student is in a five-point restraint in a chair.

Students may be restrained for extensive periods of time (e.g., hours or intermittently for days) when restraint is used as a punishing consequence. Many students are required to carry their own “restraint bag” in which the restraint straps are contained.

Imagine the experience of a profoundly autistic child being physically restrained by multiple angry near-strangers for a long and unknown duration as punishment for an offense he may not understand. This is downright traumatic for a good section of the NRC’s students.

Now, it might be the case that these therapies actually are effective and are administered by highly trained psychologists as part of treatment carefully tailored to the individual students, and the therapies would be defensible if that actually were the case. In reality land, these therapies receive little to no support by mainstream psychologists … and the typical JRC employee only has a high school education.

Judge Rotenberg Electric Torture

A shock device attached to a "patient's" leg.

A shock device attached to a "patient's" leg.

More quotes from the New York State Education Department review of the JRC, with comments underneath.

The GED is manufactured by the JRC. While JRC has information posted on their website and in written articles which represents the GED device as “approved”, it has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA has cleared the device for marketing as “substantially equivalent to devices marketed or classified as “aversive conditioning devices.” FDA’s clearance prohibits JRC from representing the device as FDA approved.

JRC’s GED was modified from other similar devices on the market by doubling the intensity (amperage and voltage) and increasing the duration by 10 times (from .2 to 2 seconds) of the shock administered and by expanding the positions on the body where the electrodes could be placed. JRC also uses a device called the GED-4, which applies an even greater intensity shock to the student when the student fails to respond to the lower level shock. … In addition to the GED, JRC uses an additional form of electrical circuitry that automatically administers a series of aversives (e.g., skin shocks) as soon as a behavior is initiated. This device is not activated by a staff person and continues until the behavior stops. Should the student fall, for example, after getting out of his/her seat, the student would continue to receive electric shocks.

As stated previously, NYSED could not find evidence that this automated electric shock device has been approved or cleared for marketing by FDA. Since the GED has been modified in intensity and duration from other similar devices on the market, and there is a lack of peer reviewed research on the effectiveness and safety of the GED as used at JRC, NYSED has concerns regarding the long term health and safety of the students, particularly those students who may receive multiple electric shocks as part of their behavior plans. Despite the safety warning of the GED device that the GED should no be allowed to become wet or submerged in water, it was reported by JRC staff that for some students, the GED device remains on them while they take a bath or shower. Student records verified this and one student interviewed stated that she had been burned by the GED device while taking a shower. By this student’s report, a new staff person was not adequately trained to administer the GED-4 shock during the student’s shower, resulting in a burn to her skin where the device was attached.

Key points: the FDA never approved the original device as safe or effective. JRC decided the original, unapproved, device didn’t hurt enough and doubled the intensity and multiplied the duration by 10. (note on duration – they sometimes use a series of shocks, so you might get shocked 5 times at the max of two seconds each.) And they have an even more amped-up version for when that isn’t painful enough.

Oh, and they also let families take the shock devices home without really giving them training on the things

JRC’s practice of providing the shock device to families and allowing newly hired staff with little to no training and information on a student to administer the GED appears to be in direct violation of the FDA required safety precautions on the use of the device.

JRC Child Abuses

The following quotes are pulled from the New York State Education Department review of the JRC, with comments underneath.

JRC employs a general use of Level III aversive behavioral interventions to students with a broad range of disabilities, many without a clear history of self-injurious behaviors.

JRC employs a general use of Level III aversive behavioral interventions to students  for behaviors that are not aggressive, health dangerous or destructive, such as nagging, swearing and failing to maintain a neat appearance.

Many of the students observed at JRC were not exhibiting self-abusive/mutilating behaviors, and their IEPs had no indication that these behaviors existed. However, they were still subject to Level III aversive interventions, including use of the GED device. The review of NYS students’ records revealed that Level III interventions are used for behaviors including ‘refuse to follow staff directions’, ’failure to maintain a neat appearance’, ‘stopping work for more than 10 seconds’, ‘interrupting others’, ‘nagging’, ‘whispering and/or moving conversation away from staff’, ‘slouch in chair’, as well as more intensive behaviors such as physical aggression toward others, property destruction and attempts to hurt/injure self.

“Level III aversive” is the four or five point restraint (restraining all four limbs, and possibly the head) and/or the remote skin “shocks” (more on those later.) I can see a real justification for severe interventions of this sort if what they’re preventing is genuinely self-destructive behavior – if you can train someone to not severely injure themselves (or someone else) through pain, then you’ve substituted pain for serious physical harm (which is a good trade if you can do it without causing permanent psychological harm) and eventually you can take them off of the pain aversion therapy and (if it worked) they still won’t try to hurt themselves.

This is not what they’re doing at the JRC.

They are applying this level of aversion therapy to “failing to maintain a neat appearance” – what is that, drooling on yourself to much? Letting your shirt get untucked? Spilling food? I went to school one day in 2nd grade with my pants on inside out (some combination of not noticing, and then not thinking it was important enough to change once I did notice) – would I have gotten strapped to a board and fried with a homemade device for that?

Note the list in the third bullet point:
— failure to maintain a neat appearance
–stopping work for more than 10 seconds
–interrupting others
–whispering and/or moving conversations away from staff
–slouch in chair

I don’t know about you, but I’ve done all of those at least once per week each during my school career. And none of those are really that serious, worth a detention at most. This is an unnecessary amount of force to acquire  instant obedience.

Judge Rotenberg Educational Center Controversies

The Center makes use of aversives as part of their intensive, 24/7 behavior modification program. Until the late 1980s, aversion therapy was administered in the form of spanking with a spatula, pinching the feet, and forced inhaling of ammonia.

Currently the Center administers 2-second electric skin shocks to residents using a Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED), which was invented to administer the skin-shocks by remote control through electrodes worn against the skin. Most often, the shocks are initiated manually by the staff. Automatic punishment is also used by forcing the patient to sit down on a cushion; if they stand up, they are automatically shocked. To address high-risk, low-frequency behaviors, a “Behavior Rehearsal Lesson” has been planned: The person is restrained and forcibly told to misbehave: if the student pulls away, he is shocked; if he follows the order to engage in the risky behavior, he is shocked even more. Reduction of food is also used as punishment: up to three-quarters of the daily required calories can be withheld from the patients if staff judges they are misbehaving.

Concerns into the treatment regime prompted investigation by New York City Council and an independent report was commissioned which was highly critical of both processes and oversight at the facility. The report mentioned a dependence on punishment, almost to the total exclusion of positive reinforcement, medication or psychological therapy. This dependence is also evident in the lack of effort to switch gradually to other treatment as the condition of the patients improves. Social interaction, academic instruction and respect for the patients dignity were all found insufficient. The report also found substantial risks of malnourishment and side effects of the repeated punishments — both physical (burns) and psychological (fear, PTSD, aggression). The qualifications of the personnel were judged insufficient; indeed, most of the staff have only completed high school. Some of the electrical shocking devices used are not cleared by the FDA.

In December, 2007, the Center was found by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care to have been abusive towards residents, failing to protect their health, after two residents were shocked using a GED on the behest of a former student, posing as a staff member via telephone. Video surveillance revealed that one resident was restrained on a 4-point board despite the fact the individual was not approved for this type of physical restraint.

A video tape documenting a compilation of the footage related to abuse investigations was destroyed by the school after being reviewed by several investigators, despite being requested to keep the tape by an investigator with the Disabled Persons Protection Commission.

Parents of difficult children have been both highly supportive and critical of the center’s practices. Said one mother, “[All I have to do is show it (shock device) to my son and…] he’ll automatically comply to whatever my signal command may be, whether it is ‘Put on your seat belt,’ or ‘Hand me that apple,’ or ‘Sit appropriately and eat your food,’… It’s made him a human being, a civilized human being.”

In 2006 Evelyn Nicholson sued the school after her son was shocked 79 times in 18 months.

The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center

The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center school for special needs students that operates in Canton, Massachusetts. We seek to educate and inform about the numerous abuse issues and violations of human rights which take place there.

We believe that a loving, nurturing environment is better suited to help special needs children than one which administers aversive therapies such as electric shocks and withholding of food. We will make a case that the center’s treatment of children is dehumanizing and inhumane.

jrc_blogger’s experiences at JRC

Timeline- April 1998 to May 1998 my first few experiences with jrc’s methods | jrc_blogger on Xanga.