Guest Commentary: DJUSD Board Must Hold a Public Hearing Regarding the Role of District Staff in Max Benson’s Death

by Brendan White

David Greenwald’s December 13, 2022 article, “DJUSD Compelled to Change Policies Following Death of Max Benson Four Years Ago,” offers readers an excellent summary of the latest developments in the tragic saga surrounding the death of a student with disabilities. However, the actual findings of the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights are shocking and deserve to be reported in detail. Indeed, OCR’s December 7, 2022 letter to Superintendent Best reads like an autopsy and proves that the negligence and incompetence of the DJUSD bureaucracy played a direct role in Max Benson’s death.

After four long years, we now know that DJUSD did not even have a current contract with the now infamous Guiding Hands non-public school: “Although the District continued [Benson’s] placement at [Guiding Hands] during the 2018-2019 school year, the District did not have a contract with NPS A for the 2018-2019 school year.” (OCR December 7, 2022 Letter to Superintendent Best, p. 13.)

We also finally learned that Guiding Hands staff physically restrained Max no fewer than 5 times for a total of 145 minutes in the time preceding his death. Three of those restraints were “prone,” the position in which Max ultimately died. More shocking, when Guiding Hands staff emailed the District an emergency report regarding one of these restraints, DJUSD bureaucrats did not even bother to read it: “Program Specialist 1 and Program Specialist 2 revealed that neither had read the [redacted content], 2018 emergency report because each person thought the other person had read it.” (OCR Letter, p. 15.) One of these unnamed “Program Specialists” was not alarmed by the pattern of violent, physical restraints inflicted on Max in the weeks leading up to his death, believing such restraints were “innocuous.” (Ibid.) The other claimed s/he believed it was necessary to call a meeting of Max’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP) teams to address the restraints, but Max was killed before the “specialist” could bestir him or herself to action.

The citizens of Davis should know that DJUSD’s incompetence and complacency was a direct and substantial cause of Max’s death. DJUSD’s Board of Trustees should hold a public hearing to review OCR’s findings and to demand the resignations of all staff involved in this eminently preventable tragedy, beginning with Superintendent Best.

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