Court Orders Reconsideration in Case on Shock Therapy

By Mark Walsh — February 15, 2008 1 min read
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A federal appeals court has ordered a lower court to reconsider its issuance of a preliminary injunction that barred the New York state education department from enforcing an emergency regulation against the use of “aversive interventions” for children with disabilities.

The aversive therapies at the school at the center of the case include “skin shocks, ‘contingent’ food programs, and physical restraints,” says the opinion by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City.

The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center is in Canton, Mass., but it has served hundreds of students from New York state who have been referred there as part of their individualized education programs under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, court papers say.

Parents consent to the aversive therapies, and each student’s treatment is under the review of a medical authorities, the court said.

The New York State Education Department issued a report in 2006 that was critical of the school, and it issued its emergency regulation barring their use, evidently with respect to students from New York state.

But parents who did not want their children’s treatment interrupted sued, and a federal district court issued the injunction against the state’s regulation.

In its unanimous Feb. 14 opinion in Alleyne v. New York State Education Department, the 2nd Circuit panel said the district judge should have more fully explored which said was likely to prevail on the merits of the lawsuit before issuing the temporary injunction.

And while the appeals court’s decision was, in the short run. favorable to the state education department, the court said “the record provides substantial support for a finding of harm to the student plaintiffs if aversive treatments are suspended, particularly the numerous affadavits submitted by the parents that attest to the positive effects of aversives adn the adverse consequences to their chidlren of suspending those treatments.”

The appeals court apparently wants the district judge to be more clear in justifying the reasons for the injunction barring the state’s emergency regulation.

The New York Times reported on the school, and the controversy over shock therapy, in December.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.