The New York Board of Regents voted unanimously yesterday to regulations that will put limits on schools both in and out of state from administering aversive behavioral therapy - including electric shocks, bodily restraints, and food deprivation - to New York children.
According to an ongoing survey being conducted by the state's Education Department, only three schools under the state's jurisdiction - including two preschools - currently use aversive therapy.
According to the Education Department, a New York private preschool, the Crossroads Center for Children, allows its staff to put "noxious tastes on the lips and physical restraints in their behavioral intervention plans."
A New Jersey preschool, the Institute for Educational Achievement, has a policy that allows for punishments such as "white noise through earphones" and "noxious tastes (e.g., alum spice to the mouth)" to be used in extreme circumstances. The institute told the education department it currently does not have any students enrolled that require the use of aversive therapy.
The Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Mass., a school for emotionally and psychiatrically troubled children that counts about 150 New Yorkers among its 250 students, most of whom suffer from emotional/psychiatric disorders or developmental disorders like autism. Among those 150, about half are fitted with electrodes on their arms and legs and specially wired backpacks that allow certified staff members to shock them with two-second jolts if they misbehave or become violent.
The new regulations, which will take effect on Friday by order of the New York Board of Regents, prohibit teachers and staff from restraining students while simultaneously shocking them with electricity. The regulations also prohibit the use of a certain kind of automatic shock mechanisms that can be programmed to automatically shock a student when he or she performs certain actions, like getting out of a chair.
Education Department investigators observed both of these practices at the Rotenberg Center when they visited the site last week. The investigators found that the Rotenberg Center's staff does not receive sufficient training in the administration of the shocks, and that they use them even in response to minor offenses like nagging and swearing.
The investigators also found that some students at the school had been injured due to improper use of the electric shock devices. Namely, staff allowed the students to keep their devices strapped on while they bathed, a practice that is prohibited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In addition, "many students were observed as they arrived to and from school wearing leg and wrist restraints," according to a statement published by the Education Department after the visit.
The Rotenberg Center's executive director, Matthew Israel, did not return repeated requests for comment yesterday.
See The State Education Department / The University of the State of New York: "Emergency adoption of proposed regulations, including the use of aversive behavioral interventions" at www.nospank.net/jrc-rgnt.pdf .