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Opponents To Fernald Closure Take Grievances To Supreme Court
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 3, 2009

WALTHAM, MASSACHUSETTS--A group that wants the state of Massachusetts to keep Fernald Developmental Center open indefinitely has made what could be its last legal attempt to block the state's planned closure of the facility, which houses about 180 people with developmental disabilities.

On Monday, the Fernald League for the Retarded filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Justices to restore an August 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro.

Judge Tauro, who for 35 years has presided over issues regarding the treatment of Fernald residents, ruled that the state could not close Fernald if residents, many of whom are represented by parents or guardians, wanted to stay. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision in October 2008, and state officials resumed plans to close the facility.

Taking the case to the Supreme Court is the latest maneuver in an ongoing battle between the state and guardians of Fernald residents. It might also be the last, even if the court agrees to hear arguments in the case.

In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. L.C. & E.W., that states violate the Americans with Disabilities Act when they unnecessarily institutionalize people with disabilities against their will. It did not rule whether a state must keep an institution operating if current residents or their representatives want it to stay open -- especially if other institutions or community options are available.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced last December that the state would move forward with a plan to close Fernald Developmental Center, Glavin Regional Center, Monson Developmental Center, and Templeton Developmental Center. Under that plan, about 300 would be transferred to Wrentham Developmental Center and Hogan Regional Center, but about 600 would move to homes in the community.

Patrick said taxpayers would need to spend between $14 million and $20 million in capital improvements to keep the 161-year-old Fernald open.

In February 2003, Governor Mitt Romney announced that Fernald, the oldest publicly-funded institution housing people with developmental disabilities in the Western Hemisphere, would close by October 2004. He hinted that closing Fernald was the first step in de-institutionalizing the state. Up to this point, employees and family members of institution residents have used the courts to stall the closure.

While supporters of keeping Fernald open claim that that particular institution is the only place that can adequately meet the residents' needs, community advocates point out that people with every type and level of disability have been living in their own homes and apartments with the support they need -- usually at a much lower cost.

The Supreme Court will probably announce in the next two or three months whether they will hear arguments in the case.

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

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