Two weeks ago, Guiding Hands School, under fire after the death of 13-year-old Davis resident Max Benson, announced it will shut down permanently. The November 28 death of the young Mr. Benson has drawn attention after it was revealed that he was placed in face-down restraints by school staff – on Tuesday, family friend Jennifer Abbanat, speaking at the school board meeting, detailed that he was placed in those restraints for about an hour and forty minutes before he had breathing difficulty and his heart stopped.
Her comments from Thursday:
I’m here this evening to remind people of the life of Max Benson – our fellow DJUSD student who had just turned 13 and was killed at the non-public school our own district sent him to because they were not able to meet his individual needs.
We have recently learned through investigation that Max died while being restrained by staff at Guiding Hands. The investigation showed that these adults chose to restrain Max inappropriately and did not follow his behavior intervention plan. They chose to use a very dangerous prone restraint to discipline him for a very predictable autism behavior of kicking a wall.
In fact according to the documents filed by the California Department of Education, Max was physically restrained for one hour and forty-five minutes. Prone face down restraints are known to be dangerous because they can impede a person’s ability to breathe.
Some awful details have emerged in filings describing what Max suffered while being restrained by adults during this one hour and forty-five-minute time period. At some point his heart stopped.
Max’s mom sent him to school on the morning of Wednesday November 28, 2018 as she did all school days. But that was the last time she would see her son alive.
This was not a tragic accident. The California Department of Education found that Guiding Hands Staff “used an amount of force which was not reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.”
The staff that held Max down excessively, the staff that were witnessed to this happening, the staff who knew what was going on and chose to not intervene are responsible for his death. They all just let him die right there in the classroom and as of today there is no one in custody facing criminal charges.
One recent positive step in getting justice for Max is the recent closure of Guiding Hands School. Before Max’s death there were numerous complaints already filed against this school from both parents and districts for abuse, mistreatment, even inappropriate and excessive use of restraints like what killed Max.
This school in early 2018 was given notice they were on conditional certification while complaints were being investigated including up until the time of Max’s death.
Our district decided to send Max to this school. What explains this decision. Did they not do their due diligence to ensure that they were sending Max to a safe school? It’s public record. Max’s family was not given this information. His family trusted DJUSD to make an informed decision about where the best place to send him to appropriately serve his educational needs.
His family trusted guiding hands to provide his educational needs and keep him safe. Guiding Hands School has been notified about the pending investigations against them. Our Davis school district still chose to send Max there. And whether they don’t know about the formal complaints and investigations against Guiding Hands or they simply neglected to inform Max’s family, is both shocking and inexcusable in either scenario.
How can our parents trust that our own district has the kids’ best interest when sending them out into the community? I doubt any of you would feel confident to send your child to one of these special needs schools – what do we not know about the schools where children are being sent?
The District just needs to do better.