News Article Details

Special-needs students pulled from private school where boy was restrained, later died

Sacramento Bee - 1/10/2019

Jan. 10--Special-needs students at an El Dorado Hills school where a boy with autism died after being held in a face-down restraint by staff are being immediately removed from the facility this week after state regulators informed at least two local school districts that it was revoking the facility's liscensing.

In November, a 13-year-old student with autism, Max Benson, became unresponsive and later died after being placed in a face-down restraint hold by staff at Guiding Hands School. The incident sparked an investigation by the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department, as well as the state Department of Education.

The state Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night, and it is not immediately clear if the revocation is a result of the investigation into Benson's death, or if the school will close.

Elk Grove Unified School District spokeswoman Xanthi Pinkerton confirmed Thursday morning that her district had been notified by the state that Guiding Hand's certification had been revoked. She said that all students must be removed from the school by Friday, including the 53 enrolled through Elk Grove.

A represestative for Sacramento Unfied School District referred questions to the CDE. Wednesday night, Sacramento City Unified School District contacted parents and guardians of more than two dozen special-needs students at Guiding Hands School, notifying them that the district would immediatley be helping them transfer their kids to other facilities.

A source familiar with the situation confirmed that Sacramento Unfied had received a similiar notice from the state, prompting Wednesday night's phone calls.

On Dec. 5, the California Department of Education suspended the K-12 school's certification, and said it found "sufficient evidence" that the facility had violated multiple state rules governing how and when physical restraints can be used in the incident with Benson.

That suspension meant the school could remain open but not accept new students. It is unclear when the state took further action to remove existing students.

A Dec. 5 letter sent by the Department of Education to the school's site administrator, Cindy Keller, stated that the violations in the Benson incident included using an emergency intervention -- the prone restraint -- unnecessarily and for "predictable behavior, and using it for an unreasonable amount of time. One student who witnessed the incident said Benson was restrained for kicking a wall.

Affected parents contacted by The Sacramento Bee said they had been told the California Department of Education had terminated the school's liscensing certification.

A representive for Sacramento Unified School District has previously said there are 26 students from Sacramento Unified School District currently at the school.

Guiding Hands is a non-public school for students with special needs that contracts with multiple districts in the region to provide educational services for public school kids who can't be served in local schools.

It's unclear if other school districts with student enrolled in Guiding Hands -- including Twin Rivers Unified and Folsom Cordova Unified -- would be following SCUSD's move.

More than 20 parents have pulled their children out of the school since the news of Max's death broke, according to interviews by THe Bee. According to state records, in the 2017-2018 school year, Guiding Hands School had 137 students from area school districts.

This story will be updated, check back with The Sacramento Bee for updates.


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