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Special Needs School Settles Shock Therapy Lawsuit

In Boston, a settlement has been reached having to do with a former student who allegedly received electric shocks at the school he attended. The special needs school, agreed to pay $65,000 to settle the lawsuit. The lawsuit claimed that the shock therapy was inhumane and violated the student’s civil rights.

shock%20therapy.jpgThe school known as The Judge Rotenberg Center uses a controversial form of aversive therapy. In order to control aggressive behavior, and to prevent self injury in autistic students, the device administers a shock.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Antwone Nicholson. At the time of the filing, in 2006, he was 17 years old and was enrolled at the school for the last four years. The student’s mother agreed to settle to simply move on. The school agreed to the settlement because it was minimal and far less than what it would cost to fight the case in court. The suit originally was for millions of dollars in damages.

The school is thought to be the only one in the United States that uses the therapy. Some parents of the school believe the therapy is successful and is used only as a last resort in preventing severely autistics children from injuring themselves. The settlement allows for the school to be absolved of all claims by the family. The school also says that the parents of the student were made aware of the treatment used at the time of enrolling the son.

Nicholson acknowledges that she knew of the treatment but said she thought it would be used only in situations where the boy was a threat to himself or to others. She says that was not the case. She claims that if her son simply said no to a directive or did not pay attention, the center’s administrators would shock him.

Nicholson says her son pleaded with her to remove him from the school. He still lives at home with her but has flashbacks to the treatment, she says.

Earlier, an appellate division of the New York Supreme court dismissed a claim that a Freeport, NY school district helped place the student in the school. Another lawsuit, brought against the state itself was also dismissed.

According to the school, less than 20 percent of students experience the shock therapy and only if positive reinforcement does not control behavior. The US Justice Department has begun an investigation to determine if shock therapy is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Approximately 30 advocacy groups presented a letter to the Justice Department asking for the shocks to end.

If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, or school employment law, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.