Death at School: Parents Protest Dangerous Discipline for Autistic, Disabled Kids


Mariellen Burns, a school spokeswoman, said the school has changed its procedure since the episode involving Andre occurred 10 years ago. Today, skin shocks are applied less frequently, and students would not be shocked while bound to a wooden board. That said, the school continues to use electric shock as a method for changing the behavior of some children who fail to respond to less extreme measures.

"I do want to emphasize that behavioral skin shock treatment is effective and necessary in some cases," Burns said. "It was a necessary and effective treatment for Andre."

Other parents who have children at the Rotenberg Center strongly support its methods, saying the school's mix of treatments – including the use of skin shocks – has succeeded in ways no other treatment has. One mother, whose statement was provided to ABC News by the Rotenberg Center, said her son's violent outbursts made it impossible to be safe in his presence. Since starting the treatments, she said, he has been transformed. "To those who routinely use false and inflammatory words to describe the only therapy that helped my son and has given him a life – shame on you," she said.

READ the full statement from the Judge Rotenberg Center.

The restraint issue is not just the province of specialized schools such as the Rotenberg Center. Increasingly, experts tell ABC News, incidents involving the improper use of restraint are occurring at mainstream public schools. Domenech said the reason for that is the passage of laws in the 1970s that required public school systems to move children from facilities "where in some cases, my god, they were treated like animals, and brought them back into the schools, with the proviso that these youngsters would be educated in the least-restrictive environment."

Because many of these youngsters have "behavioral issues," said Domenech, "they tend to act out. And when they do act out, sometimes they become a danger to themselves or a danger to others. And it's the responsibility of the school superintendent to ensure the safety of all of our students."

This year, amidst mounting evidence that the improper use of restraint was leading to injuries and deaths, the U.S. Department of Education for the first time released its own guidelines for the use of restraint in American schools. The report concludes that there is "no evidence that using restraint or seclusion is effective."

"The principles make clear that restraint or seclusion should never be used except in situations where a child's behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others," wrote Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education. "And restraint and seclusion should be avoided to the greatest extent possible without endangering the safety of students and staff."

In his interview with ABC News, Domenech acknowledged that not every school official has used the best judgment in tackling that challenge.

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