Club supports state legislation
By: Ruth Orbach
Brandeis Students Against the Judge Rotenberg Center has been working since last semester to garner media attention to push through bills in the Massachusetts state legislature that will inhibit and monitor the JRC, a residential and day program center in Canton, Mass. that uses alternative therapy to punish and control students.
Initiatives by the Center's supporters and a general lack of awareness made the passage of the bills difficult, said Liza Behrendt '11. The bills have been referred for study in legislation and must be researched and revised.
The bills were H109, which was a total ban on aversive treatment, and H1122, which would monitor the use of aversive treatment at the JRC. Behrendt said that H109 was never likely to pass. H1122 would ban electric shock as punishment for minor incidents of bad behavior, club member Lev Hirschhorn '11 said.
H1122 would ensure that the Center "could only shock in extreme situations, as an absolute last resort," club founder Nathan Robinson '11 said.
The acts were supported by BSAJRC and the Massachusetts Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, but a lack of incentive among legislators caused the bills to be shelved until January.
Doubts were raised about the effectiveness of the bills had they been passed. "The worry is that it would just establish another level of bureaucracy," said Behrendt. The bills, if passed, would force the JRC to stop the use of aversive treatment. More information was needed in order to ensure their passage. If there is no decision on the bills by January, they will be permanently dropped. The Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities and BSAJRC are "doing more research and more revising of the bills," said Behrendt.
The alternative therapy methods the Center uses to punish students have long been a topic of controversy but were brought under the media spotlight after a prank phone call ordered the staff of the JRC to shock two of the students, one of whom received over 70 shocks, according to Hirschhorn. The story was featured in the Boston Globe and the New York Times.
"I first read an exposé on the JRC, and I became alarmed," said Robinson. Brandeis students banded together in the wake of the investigative article on the JRC to form the BSAJRC.
"For most of [last] semester our goal was to spread awareness," Behrendt said. The club began campaigning to raise awareness of the bills and the JRC throughout the campus. They collected over 700 student signatures in opposition to the JRC and spoke in front of the Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities to gain more support, said Robinson. "A lot of us were doing dorm-storming. We've been calling and lobbying these people quite a lot," he said. The club staged call-in days to state legislators.
The legislation period did not go as BSAJRC wanted. "It became clear that [the legislators] weren't very passionate about passing the bills," said Robinson. "Parents of students at the JRC packed the hearings," said Behrendt. The lack of a grassroots movement against the JRC proved to be a problem. "The only people at the hearing were against the bills or were connected with the JRC," said Hirschhorn.
The club received an email from Rick Glassman, litigation director at the Disability Law Center of Boston, informing them that the bills had not been passed but had been sent to study. "Without pressure on legislators nothing is going to happen. We are going to explore other avenues than just depending on state legislators," said Robinson.
The group is going to appear at Saturday's Social Justice Fair on campus, work with local democratic organizations and try and network further with the disabilities rights community, according to Robinson. "The legislators did not have a good incentive to pass [the bills]," said Robinson.
The club is trying to gather enough support to push the legislation through. "We want a bad reputation of this school to get out. If we can keep parents from sending their children to this school then that's a huge accomplishment," said Behrendt.
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