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Probe into student’s death finds school violated rules

December 9, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — An investigation into a 13-year-old student’s death at a Northern California private school has found the school violated state rules when its staff put him in a face-down restraint position for nearly an hour.

State education regulators found evidence that staffers at Guiding Hands School in El Dorado Hills used an unreasonable amount of force and put Max Benson in restraint for longer than necessary, the Sacramento Bee reported .

The staff’s actions were harmful to the health, welfare or safety of the student, the state inspection stated.

Scott Rose, a spokesman for Guiding Hands School, said in a statement Saturday that school officials were concerned that details in the newspaper’s story were inaccurate but did not give specifics.

“We are reviewing our files and information in order to present accurate information as soon as we are able,” Rose said.

In a statement earlier this week, the school had said it was cooperating with authorities but that staff had used a “nationally recognized behavior management protocol.”

The state suspended the school’s certification as a result of Benson’s death, meaning it cannot accept new students. But it remains open.

“Whenever a disciplinary matter or an action is taken to correct behavior, it has to be reasonable under the circumstances,” said Seth Goldstein, an attorney for Benson’s mother. “If it’s unreasonable or unwarranted, it’s an offense.”

Benson, who had autism, became unresponsive while being held in a “prone restraint” at the school on Nov. 28 and died a day later at a hospital.

A parent who said her son witnessed the physical restraint told the newspaper Benson was disciplined by a teacher and teacher’s aide for kicking a wall.

Cherilyn Caler said her son told her after Benson stopped moving, the staff told Benson to stop pretending he was sleeping. After about 30 minutes, the classmate said staff realized Benson was unresponsive and called for medical assistance.

Caler said her son has been put in a restraint before at Guiding Hands, and the boy has told her students sometimes pretend to be asleep so staff would release them.

Prone restraints are banned for use in schools in several states and are controversial.

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