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Judge Tells State And Parents To Compromise Over Fernald
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 12, 2004

WALTHAM, MASSACHUSETTS--State Department of Mental Retardation officials met Thursday with lawyers of families who oppose state plans to close Fernald Developmental Center.

U.S. District Judge Joseph T. Tauro had urged the meeting after listening to arguments on Wednesday. He said he wanted both sides to see if they could work out their differences over the fate of the aging facility and its residents.

While neither side would discuss the details of Thursday's meeting, representatives did not appear optimistic, according to the Associated Press and the Daily News Tribune. In fact, the groups could not even agree on the number of people with mental retardation currently housed at the institution.

Governor Mitt Romney announced in February of last year that the institution would shut down by October 2004 and its then-302 residents moved to other state-run facilities or into homes in the community. The governor hinted that closing Fernald was his first step in de-institutionalizing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Since then, Fernald employees and parents of institution residents have effectively stalled the moves. Beryl Cohen, the attorney representing the families, said there are currently 252 people in Fernald. The state's lead counsel, Marianne Meacham, said there are 225.

Earlier this year, Cohen, representing the parents, asked Judge Tauro to oversee the institution's operations, claiming that living conditions had deteriorated because of the state's intention to close the facility. They wanted Tauro to reopen a 1972 court case under which he took charge of overseeing the institution until 1993. Parents had filed that suit charging that the state's five institutions -- then housing 5,000 people with mental retardation -- were understaffed, that staff were not properly trained and that conditions were inhumane.

On Wednesday, Tauro recognized the conflict between the two groups. He said there was nothing in his 1993 decision which said the state could not close Fernald. He then told the groups to try to come up with a compromise, and then get back to him within the week.

The Fernald Developmental Center was originally founded as the "Massachusetts School for the Feeble Minded" by social reformer Samuel Gridley Howe in 1848. It was later renamed for a former superintendent of the facility.

It is the oldest institution housing people with mental retardation in the Western Hemisphere.

"Fernald advocate about to throw in the towel" (Daily News Tribune)
"Fernald Developmental Center -- Oldest Institution In the Americas" (Inclusion Daily Express)


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