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NYCLU Calls On State Regents To Reject Regulations Permitting the Use of Noxious Stimuli To Punish Students With Disabilities

The New York Civil Liberties Union today called on the New York State Board of Regents to reject regulations that would permit New York State schools to use electric skin shock, electric shocks, beatings, isolation, restraints, food deprivation, and other "aversive" stimuli to control the behaviors of children with disabilities.

In June 2006 the New York Board of Regents approved "emergency regulations" that permit New York State schools to use, on a "child-specific" basis, aversive behavioral interventions and restraint and seclusion techniques to punish or control children with disabilities who attend New York State schools. At its January 2007 meeting, the Board of Regents are expected to vote to decide whether to make the regulations permanent. These techniques, the NYCLU maintains,

  • serve no therapeutic or educational purpose;
  • are an extremely poor substitute for staff and other resources necessary to provide appropriate treatment and supports for persons with mental retardation; and
  • can be — and often are — easily abused.

In its public comments, the Board of Regents has taken the position that it "does not support the use of aversives," and, further, that it "will take steps during the next two years to ensure that effective research-based alternative behavioral interventions are available for all New York students." Despite this fact, the Board of Regents has allowed such techniques since June and may today authorize their use through 2009.

"The Board of Regents has stated that, like the NYCLU, it does not support the use of aversives and wants children with disabilities attending schools under its jurisdiction subjected only to 'effective research-based alternative behavioral interventions,'" said Beth Haroules, NYCLU Staff Attorney. "Why, then, does the Board of Regents continue for any period of time to legitimize the use of aversive behavorial interventions — thereby risking the lives of the almost 400,000 children with disabilities, aged 6-21, who attend school in the State of New York?"

Added Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director: "Over thirty years ago the NYCLU successfully sued New York State to end institutional practices that dehumanized children with disabilities who were being 'educated' at the infamous Willowbrook State School. Like the practices we saw at Willowbrook, aversive behavioral interventions and seclusion and restraint practices dehumanize without serving any therapeutic purpose. The Board of Regents must ban them, not endorse them."