Seven staff members at the controversial Judge Rotenberg Educational Center have been fired for their role in mistakenly allowing dozens of electrical shocks to be administered to two emotionally disturbed teenagers based on a caller posing as a supervisor, a center spokesman said yesterday.
Six staff members who worked the overnight shift at the center's group home in Stoughton, where the two teenagers were wrongfully shocked, have been dismissed.
The seventh fired staff member worked in the video surveillance office at the school's central office in Canton. He was supposed to be monitoring television screens that provide round-the-clock observations, through remote cameras.
Center spokesman Ernest Corrigan said the video surveillance monitor should have caught the chaos erupting at the group home the night of Aug. 26, but clearly "he wasn't doing his job."
Corrigan said the firings took place in October, but the center decided not to announce them until yesterday.
The staff firings followed a state report released this week showing that none of the six staff members at the house acted to stop the harrowing events for three hours, despite having ample reason to doubt the caller's orders to wake up the youths in the middle of the night and administer shocks, at times with their arms and legs bound.
The caller said the youths were to be punished based on misbehavior earlier in the evening, which was noticed through the central office's surveillance screens. Yet none of the staff had witnessed the behavior the caller cited.
From 2 to 4:45 a.m., one teenager received 77 shocks, while another got 29, according to the report by the state Department of Early Education and Care, which licenses group homes.
As the two youths screamed, other residents woke up and insisted the accused teenagers had violated no rules. One even told staff that the caller might be a prankster.
Staff members did not realize their mistake until one of them called the central office and determined that no punishment orders had been given for the teenagers.
The Stoughton facility is one of 38 group homes that house the more than 200 special education students at the Rotenberg school, said Corrigan.
The Rotenberg center has long been controversial for punishing students with two-second shocks and has weathered two attempts by Massachusetts officials to close the facility. Yet the school's officials - and many of the parents - defend the center as offering effective treatment and a good education for hard-to-teach children. The students are autistic, mentally retarded, or have serious emotional problems.
Rotenberg officials have said they have instituted a number of safeguards to make sure the horrific events in August in Stoughton are not repeated. State and law enforcement officials have identified the caller, are investigating the case, and are considering criminal charges.
Patricia Wen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.