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Efforts To Reopen 1973 Lawsuit Seen As Ploy To Keep Fernald Open
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 26, 2004

WALTHAM, MASSACHUSETTS--State officials argued this week that attempts to reopen a 1973 class action lawsuit against Massachusetts are merely efforts by a pro-institution group to keep Fernald Developmental Center open, according to the News Tribune.

In papers filed Monday with U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro, the state attorney general's office responded to a legal motion filed last month by attorney Beryl Cohen. The Boston attorney represents parents of some Fernald residents who have resisted Governor Mitt Romney's efforts to close the 156-year-old facility and move the residents into smaller, community-based settings and other placements.

In his July 14 motion, Cohen had said that the state failed to do its part to keep the people housed there safe and healthy as required of the three-decades-old suit. That suit, which Tauro presided over, was settled in 1993 with an federal court order requiring the state to provide residents with "equal or better facilities" in the "least restrictive, most normal, appropriate residential environment."

Cohen claimed that budget cuts have brought conditions at Fernald to pre-1973 levels.

State attorneys responded that Cohen's claims "represent the efforts of some plaintiffs to hamper the planned reconfiguration of the campus and resulting transfer of current Fernald residents to the community and other placements." They also argued that the plans to close Fernald are consistent with the state's policy to "favor community-based settings for individuals who can handle and benefit from them and to reduce its reliance upon traditional institutions for adults with mental retardation."

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 enlisted local support, including that of Mr. Cohen, to slow or stop the moves.

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 lawsuit blasted by AG" (Daily News Tribune)

"Fernald Developmental Center -- Oldest Institution In the Americas" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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