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Opponents step up campaign against Rotenberg Center

Video of school’s ‘aversive therapy’ circulated by foes

Cheryl McCollins (right) was embraced by Emily Titon as petitions against shock treatments at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton were taken to the State House Wednesday.
Cheryl McCollins (right) was embraced by Emily Titon as petitions against shock treatments at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton were taken to the State House Wednesday.Charles Krupa/AP

Critics of the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton have stepped up their campaign to stop the school’s controversial skin-shock therapy, including disseminating a graphic video showing the school’s “aversive therapy’’ being administered to a teenager and handing a 215,000-signature petition Wednesday to Massachusetts lawmakers.

The video was shown last month in a medical malpractice case in Dedham filed by Cheryl McCollins, the mother of a behaviorally troubled student who received 30 electrical shocks within a seven-hour period, her lawyer said. It shows the 18-year-old screaming in pain while in restraints. He was later taken to Children’s Hospital Boston and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, McCollins’s lawyer, Benjamin Novotny, said in an interview.

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As the video played in court, it was captured by Fox25 News.

State Senator Brian Joyce, a Democrat from Milton and a longtime outspoken critic of the school, has been among those who have used e-mail to alert constituents and others to the existence of the video. He wrote, “It is extraordinarily disturbing and only strengthens my resolve to stop this barbaric practice that takes place in my district.’’

The school’s founder, Matthew Israel, and his lawyers have long fought to suppress the public availability of video footage of its unorthodox behavioral-control methods. Last May, Israel agreed to leave his post running the school in return for the attorney general’s decision to temporarily suspend its case against him for destroying video tapes related to a separate incident, in which two teenagers were mistakenly given dozens of shocks based on a prank phone call.

On Wednesday a former Rotenberg school teacher, Gregory Miller, 42, joined by McCollins, handed state lawmakers petitions they said contained more than 200,000 signatures, collected through Change.org, a popular website for social activism. The petition calls for a ban on electric shocks at the center.

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Cheryl McCollins and Greg Miller wheeled petitions opposing shock treatments at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton to the State House Wednesday, to be delivered to lawmakers.
Cheryl McCollins and Greg Miller wheeled petitions opposing shock treatments at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton to the State House Wednesday, to be delivered to lawmakers. Charles Krupa/AP

Miller and McCollins have also called for the public to view the video of McCollins’s son, Andre. In the case involving him last month, the sides reached a financial settlement, for an undisclosed amount, as jurors began deliberating. The student, who had been diagnosed with autism, is now in a state mental health facility in New York, and the money will be used for his future care, Novotny said.

In a telephone interview after the State House event, Miller, said he worked at the center for three years, initially convinced that aversive therapy could be an effective last-ditch effort to help troubled children.

But as time went on, he said, he became “horrified’’ by what he and other staff members had to do. He said that when he quit his job, in which he earned about $35,000 a year, “it was one of the biggest reliefs of my life.’’


Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com.