By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – The fallout from the tragic death of 13-year-old Max Benson, a Davis resident who died after being restrained by staff at Guiding Hands in 2018. The incident prompted the school to be shut down and staff to be criminally prosecuted.
Now state legislators are attempting to ensure that such tragedies will never happen again. In a bill introduced this week by Senator Dave Cortese, schools would be banned from using a dangerous form of physical restraint against students.
According to Cortese, “Unfortunately, prone restraint is often used on students with special needs. In 2018, a 13-year-old student with autism died at an El Dorado Hills school after being held in a prone restraint for over an hour.
“Prone restraint is an outdated and barbaric form of discipline that has no place in our classrooms,” said Senator Cortese, a member of the Senate Education Committee. “Instead of prone restraint, educators should respond to students that appear to pose a threat to themselves or others with positive behavioral interventions that keep all students safe.”
The U.S. Department of Education recommends banning the use of prone restraints, and 21 states have prohibited this form of physical restraint on all students. In 2018, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2657, which only permitted teachers or school staff to use behavioral restraints or seclusion when a student’s behavior posed a clear and present danger of serious physical harm to the pupil or others.
California law currently allows prone restraint to be used in schools by “trained personnel,” stipulating that staff must observe the pupil for any signs of physical distress throughout the use of prone restraint, and that the student’s hands cannot be held or restrained behind their back. SB 483 builds upon the safety goals of AB 2657 by banning all uses of the prone restraint.
In 2019, The Sacramento Bee found that prone restraints are often used on students with special needs and used at a higher rate for Black students.
David Forderer, a disability rights advocate and Regional Advisory Committee Member with the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities, recalled his personal experience with prone restraint in middle school. “I don’t want anyone else to go through that experience,” Forderer said. “I didn’t know what they were going to do, I was powerless. This was in junior high and I remember this experience very clearly. It still haunts me a great deal.”