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Calif. District Sued Over Questionable Therapy

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The parents of five children in the Del Norte Unified School District on California's northern coast have filed a lawsuit suit claiming that their children were injured in a school-sponsored program that used questionable chiropractic techniques to treat learning disabilities.

The five Crescent City families are seeking damages from both the district and a New York chiropractor and his associates.

Their civil suit alleges that the treatments involved fraud, battery, malpractice, and intent to inflict emotional distress.

Inflicted 'Immediate Pain'

The chiropractic technique sometimes involved pressing painfully on the childrens' eyes, against the roofs of their mouths, and squeezing their skulls, according to the parents' lawyer, W. Timothy Needham.

The parents allege that the treatments caused "immediate pain, as well as physical and emotional problems later on,'' Mr. Needham said.

At least one child suffered seizures and vomiting during the treatment, and most "screamed bloody murder'' from the pain, according to the lawyer.

The chiropractors involved also face criminal-misdemeanor charges, filed by Crescent City District Attorney Douglas Nareau, for practicing without a license in California.

"It's just like the old snake-oil vendors and medicine people,'' said Harry Liddicote, deputy district attorney for Crescent City. "These guys claim that, by pushing and pulling and squeezing on heads, pushing the jaw down and poking the eyes, it will help these kids.''

Last week, three of the school board's five members and the county superintendent were recalled in a special election that may have been fueled by the parents' claims that children were injured in the experimental program.

Controversial Technique

The program, which was sponsored by the district, centered on a newly developed idea using a controverial form of chiropractic called kinesiology, which is similar to acupressure. It involves putting pressure on certain joints or muscles to cause a reaction within the nervous system.

Officials of the American Chiropractors Association said last week that the practice was not officially sanctioned by accredited chiropractic colleges. Guidelines established by the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners stipulate that kinesiology may not be used except in conjunction with accredited techniques.

Carl A. Ferreri, a chiropractor who is licensed in New York City, claims to be the originator of the method as a treatment for learning disabilities. He calls it the "Neural Organizational Technique.''

The Del Norte district's psychologist, Roy Krause, said he became interested in the practice at a seminar in San Francisco and was approached by Mr. Ferreri, who was searching for a school district that would be willing to sponsor an experimental application of its use.

Though he had conducted an estimated 3,500 case studies of the technique, Mr. Ferrari said last week, it had never been applied as a standardized group program.

The treatment, Mr. Ferreri said, is sometimes painful--"like going to the dentist,'' he said.

"Pain is a personal matter, some people perceive it more than others,'' he explained. "The immature child may perceive pain that someone else might not feel at all.''

Parents Gave Consent

Superintendent of Del Norte Schools Joyce M. Flanigan, who had also been county superintendent before last week's special election, said parents were given a demonstration of the technique last year by Mr. Ferreri. They were asked to sign a consent release acknowledging that their children were participating in an experimental program.

Mr. Krause, the psychologist, said the school board would only allow the program if it could be open to all children whose parents were willing to take part. That requirement forced the chiropractors to include the district's learning-disabled children with cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, and epilepsy.

Forty-eight children were enrolled in the 18-week program last year, which was run by Mitchell A. Corwin, a practitioner from Berkeley, Calif., and Scott Calvaretta, both licensed chiropractors in the state.

The program was free to parents; the district was asked by the chiropractors only to pay their expenses.

The physical treatments were conducted over a 10-week period, preceded and followed by several weeks of data collection.

A final follow-up session, scheduled for the beginning of this school year, was cancelled by the school board after the program was challenged by parents.

Ms. Flanigan said no parents complained about the treatment until last September, "just before'' the community voted to schedule last week's special school-board election. The complaints, she said, were a result of the "political climate'' that preceded the vote to hold the election.

Some Saw Improvement

Although Mr. Ferreri's team has not finished analyzing the results of last year's experiment, Ms. Flanigan said many parents have claimed that their children showed improvement after the treatment.

The superintendent said last week that two of her grandchildren had been in the program. Before the treatment, she said, her 9-year-old grandson "couldn't walk across a room without tripping.'' After the treatment, his balance had improved and he "tested higher'' academically, she said.

But Ms. Flanigan's 8-year-old granddaughter had to be taken out of the program because she was frightened, the school official said.

Mr. Krause said he and school-board members were aware that Mr. Ferreri did not have a license to practice in the state, but believed that the practitioners could operate under the supervision of Mr. Corwin, who is licensed in California and was to administer most of the treatments.

Practitioners Facing Charges

The parents who have filed suit are being advised by Mr. Needham not to comment on the case.

Mr. Needham also declined comment on specifics of the charges, but said the parents felt they were completely misled by Mr. Ferreri and the others, and that their children suffered more serious traumas than simply pain and fear.

"Our main concern is that this doesn't happen to someone else,'' he said.

Edward J. Hoefling, executive director of the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners said he received several letters of complaint from Del Norte parents last summer. He visited the district in the fall and, convinced that a full investigation was merited, he said, asked the state department of consumer affairs to file a report.

The results were forwarded to the local district attorney, who filed the criminal charges against Mr. Ferreri and his associate from New York, David Pinkus.

The district attorney also filed a civil complaint against Mr. Ferreri, Mr. Pinkus, and Mr. Corwin, asking for $210,000 in damages for alleged false representation.

Mr. Corwin and Mr. Calvaretta face criminal charges for aiding and abetting in the alleged violations, and are under investigation by the state's board of chiropractic examiners.

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