Rep. Stanley lobbies for public records bill backed by Gann Academy students

In a letter to Rep. Michlewitz, chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means (HWM) Rep. Stanley urged favorable action on House Bill 2779 related to access to public records backed by students from Gann Academy. The bill received a favorable recommendation from the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight last week and is now before HWM.

H.2779 amends general laws to create access to public records, currently under the custody of the state secretary, that were created more than 75 years ago for historical and genealogical purposes. These records contain some of the only information ever obtained about the hundreds of residents of the Fernald State School and other state hospitals and schools throughout the Commonwealth.

Over 300 people died while residing at either the Metropolitan State Hospital or the Fernald School for individuals with disabilities. They were buried at the Metfern Cemetery in unnamed graves, with just a number and letter to indicate whether they were Protestant or Catholic. Unfortunately, those individuals were most likely buried anonymously to spare families the embarrassment and shame of having a relative in a state institution.

Students from Gann Academy recently initiated a project to determine the names of the individuals buried at Metfern and provide a proper burial for these individuals. Their work is instrumental in ending the stigma of disability that perpetuates and violates the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With passage of H.2779, Gann Academy and others will be able to uncover the hidden lives of those individuals who were institutionalized in state facilities. Moreover, the importance of public access to these records becomes especially important to family members who have a deep desire to know the stories of their relatives and family members – uncles, aunts, cousins, parents or grandparents – whose memory has been lost.