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In the first decade of the 20th Century, the state of Massachusetts established itself as a leader in the education of individuals with disabilities. The third state school for the “feeble-minded” was built in rural Belchertown in the western part of the state. Opened in 1915, Belchertown State School would eventually encompass almost 900 acres of land and quickly became the largest employer in town. For nearly sixty years the state school educated individuals with disabilities who were otherwise excluded from public education, training the “residents” to become independent members of their families and of society. The model was a success until reports of abuse and neglect began to surface, culminating in the landmark 1972 Ricci vs. Greenblatt case which ultimately led to the state school’s closure in 1992. The state school’s rich history, maintained and curated by the late Donald LaBrecque, chronicles the rise of special education and developmental services and the ultimate collapse of the state school system.

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