Massachusetts regulators received 95 reports of alleged abuse and neglect at residential special education schools since July 1, according to the state’s Department of Early Education and Care.
Department Commissioner Tom Weber told state lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday that maltreatment allegations increased over the last year at the 53 residential schools qualified to receive state-funded tuition, and also rose at child care facilities and foster care homes. He said special education schools accounted for a disproportionate number of allegations.
Weber said he didn’t know how many of the allegations were supported by state investigations into the complaints. “There should be no abuse and neglect,” he said.
Concern has been rising about students at special education schools in Massachusetts, especially boarding schools. In March, the state shut down the Eagleton School in Great Barrington, which enrolled boys with mental disabilities, after five former staff members were arrested.
In August, The Eye and WBUR public radio reported on years of state investigators’ reports of improper restraints, runaways and improper sexual relations between staff and students at the Chamberlain International School in Middleborough. The school has said it is has worked with the state in improving safety and is in compliance with regulations.
“The Eagleton experience helped to expose some significant challenges and weaknesses, not only in the schools themselves, but also in the way the state regulates, monitors and supports them," said Education Secretary James Peyser. “Residential schools are facing increasing challenges that require all of us to work together differently.”
James Major, executive director of an industry association that supports special education schools, said it’s hard to make assess the rising maltreatment allegations, because it’s unclear how many are credible. “If the sources of the reports were the schools themselves, the increase could be a sign of programs doing a better job of being accountable," he said.
The hearing was called by Rep. Alice Peisch, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education. Peisch said Wednesday that she also plans to look into finances at the schools and plans to hold at least one more hearing to decide whether new legislation is needed.