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The parents of 67 severely handicapped children are opposing attempts by the state to close seven Massachusetts homes that use a type of punishment as therapy.

The Massachusetts office for children decided in September to close the homes, run by the Behavior Research Institute, a Providence, R.I., organization. The institute uses a type of therapy known as "averse counter-conditioning," which can involve pinching or squirting water to modify a child's behavior.

The state's order to close the homes followed the death of a 22-year-old student in one of the homes last July. The official cause of the student's death, however, has not yet been determined.

"The office for children felt that there was an excessive amount of punishment," said Michael Coughlin, a spokesman for the office. He said the majority of the students in the homes are autistic, and most come from outside the state.

The case is now before an administrative law judge, who will decide this month whether or not to close the homes. If the homes are closed, the parents plan to sue in federal court, according to Richard Landau, the lawyer representing the parents.

Mr. Landau said the children in the homes are "among the most profoundly disabled in the Commonwealth." The parents feel they are receiving the best treatment and "reaching their maximum potential" under this type of therapy, he said.

Louisiana school officials have told legislators that they will work with them to reduce spending on precollegiate and higher education in the state, in light of a predicted budget crunch.

State Senator Armand J. Brinkhaus, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, called a meeting of representatives of the five education boards in the state earlier this month to discuss possible budget cuts.

Senate fiscal experts told educators that the state could end the current budget year as much as $225- million short of funds. They attributed the shortfall in part to the tax structure's high dependence on oil prices, which have fallen sharply this year.

Lawmakers have already ordered a 3 percent across-the-board cut in state spending. But Annette R. Seng, staff lawyer for the committee, said cuts in education will have to go beyond that. "What we hope to do," she said, "is come up with a viable package of cuts that we can all agree on and present to the legislature next session." If no agreement can be reached, she added, there may be another across-the-board cut.

According to Ms. Seng, 46 percent of the state's total budget now goes to education--a proportion that has more than doubled since 1976-77.

Meetings with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will probably begin next month. It is not yet clear how deep the cuts will have to be, said Ms. Seng.

Vol. 05, Issue 08

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