In our September/October issue, we published a 9,000 word story, "School of Shock: Inside the taxpayer-funded program that treats American kids like enemy combatants," the result of a year-long investigation into the Rotenberg Educational Center by Jennifer Gonnerman: "Located in Canton, Massachusetts, the facility, which calls itself a "special needs school," takes in all kinds of troubled kidsseverely autistic, mentally retarded, schizophrenic, bipolar, emotionally disturbedand attempts to change their behavior with a complex system of rewards and punishments, including painful electric shocks to the torso and limbs. Of the 234 current residents, about half are wired to receive shocks, including some as young as nine or ten. Nearly 60 percent come from New York, a quarter from Massachusetts, the rest from six other states and Washington, D.C. The Rotenberg Center, which has 900 employees and annual revenues exceeding $56 million, charges $220,000 a year for each student. States and school districts pick up the tab."
Gonnerman's story, which was accompanied by hundreds of pages of court testimony, a photo essay, and statements by experts decrying the methods of its founder, Dr. Matthew Israel, prompted legislators in Massachusetts to renew their efforts to shut the facility down, assemblymen in New York to reopen an investigation of the facility, and new D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee to investigate why the city's special ed program was sending its kids all the way to Canton. In addition, readers of our story organized themselves through our website's comments boards. One mother went to the Rotenberg Center to see what would befall her autistic child if she enrolled him there; students from Brandeis organized themselves to investigate and protest the Rotenberg Center.
In the last few days, developments on this story have been fast and furious. D.C. School Chancellor Michele Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty have promised to have all nine D.C. kids still at Rotenberg pulled from the programafter the local Washington angle on our story was reported out by the D.C. Examiner, the ever incompetent and corrupt D.C. special ed program told Rhee it would remove them, only to, you know, not. Heads supposedly will roll, dear God, please let one be special ed director Marla Oakes.
But the real news is that Massachusetts just released another damning report [PDF] on the Rotenberg Center, this one detailing an incident where a former patient had called into one of the Center's residential facilities and, posing as an administrator, told an orderly to wake two students, restrain and shock them, which they did, delivering 29 (!!) shocks to one student and 77 (!!!) to the other. Via the Patriot Ledger:
According to the report, as the two students protested that they were innocent and howled in pain, other student residents awoke in the night and shouted in protest, the report said. They told staff members the calls were a prank, but were told to go back to bed.
The two students complained they were in pain and asked to see a nurse, to no immediate avail. One, who screamed that his leg was "killing him,'' was found during a hospital examination the next day to have first-degree burn from the skin shocks. The other told staff members his blood pressure was racing and he felt as though he was about to have a stroke.
The report concludes that one employee "was physically abusive toward residents,'' while six others were negligent in their duties.
Here's a WNBC-NY news report of the incident, including a statement from Governor Elliot Spitzer saying that the practices at the Rotenberg Center are "wrong, and should be ended," and promising to pull NY kids from the program if allowed "the capacity to do so." (Right now, New York City is stymied from doing just that by an injunction filed by some parents of kids at the Rotenberg Center.)