Electric Shocks Can Continue at Mass. School After Hoax

A special education school where two emotionally disturbed students were wrongly given dozens of shocks after a prank call, will be allowed to use electric shock treatments on students for another year, the Associated Press reports.

But the state's Office of Health and Human Services said the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center must prove it uses shock treatments only for the most dangerous and self-destructive behaviors, and also show that the treatments reduce those behaviors, according to the AP.

On Aug. 26, someone posing as a supervisor called in shock treatments on two students, aged 16 and 19. The teens were awakened in the middle of the night and given the shock treatments.

Seven school officials at the special-needs school were fired after the incident which occured last August.

"This [incident] happened, we reported it and we've taken steps necessary so that this doesn't happen again," said Ernest Corrigan, spokesman for the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, where the shock therapy was mistakenly administered. "This was not a normal day at Judge Rotenberg."

A prankster, believed to be a former student of the Canton, Mass., school, reportedly posed as a member of the administration and phoned in instructions for shock therapy, according to a report by the Department of Early Education and Care, the organization that licenses the residential program at the school and is conducting the investigation.

Unaware that the phone call was a prank, school officials reportedly woke the two students up and delivered 77 shocks to one student and 29 to another -- informing both that it was punishment for misbehavior earlier in the day.

Both victims were seen by medical professionals after the incident and later cleared, according to the school. Only one of the students has remained at the insitution since. The names of the victims have not been released.

"I think it's fair to say that [giving someone] 77 shocks is unusual," said Corrigan. "It is excessive to what is normal protocol. Giving 22 shocks is also excessive."

A third person was also reportedly shocked, according to Nancy Alterio, the executive director of Massachusetts's Disabled Persons Protection Committee, who said her agency's 24-hour abuse hot line was tipped off to the incident at Rotenberg.

"The allegations that were phoned in said that somebody had called into [the school] and instructed the staff to provide the aversive therapy [or shock therapy] to three separate individuals," said Alterio, who added that her organization is looking into the third, adult victim.

Rotenberg is a school for severely disabled or deeply disturbed children who would otherwise be overlooked by society, according to a statement released by the school. Shock therapy is only used "after obtaining prior parental, medical, psychiatric, human rights, peer review and individual approval from a Massachusetts Probate Court," according to the school's Web site.

Many of the school's approximately 250 students are low-functioning autistic children who have been unsuccessful or expelled from other schools due to bad behavior, according to Rotenberg.

It is the only school in the United States that utilizes electric shock therapy, which is administered through a device called a graduated electronic decelerator, or a GED.

"The skin shock that we're talking about is two seconds and people who have experienced it say it feels like a bee sting," said Rotenberg's Corrigan.

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