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Stop electric shocks on disabled students, ex-teacher's aide says

NBC New York

A former teacher’s aide who says he used electric shocks on teens with special needs to control behavior is demanding that state officials ban the practice at a Massachusetts school.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 228,000 people had joined an online campaign condemning the Judge Rotenberg Education Center in Canton, Mass., for administering electric shock treatments to its students with developmental disabilities.

Greg Miller said he launched the petition drive on Change.org last week after a 2002 video surfaced showing a Rotenberg student being shocked 31 times. 

“Support has been immense,” said Jonathan Perri, a senior campaigner at Change.org. “A lot of people from around the world have been signing the petition, watching the video. They can’t believe this is happening in Massachusetts.”

The Rotenberg center's unorthodox methods have been subject of lawsuits and media scrutiny, including an investigation by NBCNewYork.com, which first reported on the shock treatments in 2006. 


Rotenberg school officials have said that the electric shock treatments are approved by physicians and that parents are involved in the care of their children.

A receptionist answering calls at the Rotenberg center said she would refer messages from msnbc.com to a publicist handling media inquires. Separate telephone calls to the media representative went unanswered. 

Video of shock therapy shows life inside school for disabled kids

In the video showing him being shocked repeatedly, then-18-year-old Andre McCollins begs for relief. Miller said he worked at the center from 2003 and 2006, and during that time, he administered electric shocks to students with disabilities “so many times, I lost count.”

Charles Krupa / AP

Cheryl McCollins holds an umbrella as Greg Miller wheels petitions against shock treatments up the Statehouse steps, to be delivered to lawmakers on Wednesday.

The student's mother, Cheryl McCollins of New York, sued the school, alleging malpractice. During court proceedings, the judge allowed the video to be played as evidence, according to NBC News. A settlement was announced April 24, but its terms were not disclosed.

Since then, the video has been prominently displayed on Miller's page on Change.org, a popular website for social activism.

Miller said he has not met Andre McCollins, but Cheryl McCollins, who now lives in New York, was the first to sign Miller's petition. She wrote:

My son Andre McCollins was subjected to this torture at JRC. As a parent, I was not prepared for the inhumane manner in which they treated people. I expected logic and some form of reason to be applied to the students in addressing behaviors that were considered inappropriate. Parents are not told "corrective measures" particularly a painful shock is applied without any warning or concern for what triggered the targeted behavior. What was dangerous about keeping his coat on. THIS INSANITY HAS TO STOP.

'Bee sting'
In a video on the school's website, Matthew Israel, the school's former executive director, describes the use of the electric shock method, likening the procedure as the equivalent of a bee sting.

“It's not a bee sting. It is inhumane and it is torture,” Miller told msnbc.com.

According to Miller, students at the center wear electrodes on their bodies that are attached to a small device carried around in a staff member’s fanny pack. When the student acts out or violates a behavior, a staff member administers a shock, he said. A student could receive up to 30 shocks for a number of offenses, including standing up from a chair without permission, he said.

“I want to put an end to this practice all together in Massachusetts and help these students,” Miller said. “Not only should the school stop shocking students, Massachusetts legislators should ban the use of shocks altogether.” 

'Extraordinarily disturbing'
On Wednesday, Cheryl McCollins and Miller hand-delivered boxes of petitions to Massachusetts lawmakers, including Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Attempts by msnbc.com to reach McCollins for comment was unsuccessful.

State Sen. Brian Joyce, a Democrat from Milton, Mass., criticized the state for allowing the practice to continue. “It is extraordinarily disturbing and only strengthens my resolve to stop this barbaric practice that takes place in my district,’’ Joyce said in a statement on his website.

Charles Krupa / AP

Cheryl McCollins holds an umbrella as she is embraced by Emily Titon, who is autistic, while petitions against shock treatments are loaded onto a hand cart, to be delivered to lawmakers, outside the Statehouse in Boston.

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