On November 28, 13-year-old Max Benson was physically restrained at Guiding Hands School, a private school that caters to those with special needs.
The following day, Max died.
Conflicting reports hit the news immediately, both about what actually happened at the school and details about Max (who was unnamed in reports for some time). Multiple investigations are underway to determine exactly what led to Max’s death.
According to files from January of 2018, Max was 5’3 and weighed 180 pounds, though he had grown some since then. Highly intelligent, Max was also passionate about animals, and had a twin brother. He had only been attending the school for a few months.
On the day of the incident, Max “became violent and needed to be restrained by school staff, to prevent the injury of staff and students,” according to a statement released by El Dorado County Sheriff’s office.
Max was restrained face-down (called a prone restraint) for nearly an hour. Some states have banned this form of restraint, but it is still legal in California, and the school issued a statement after Max’s death that claimed they used a “nationally recognized behavior management protocol.” In 2002, an investigation conducted by Disability Rights California found that the the prone restraint is a “hazardous and potentially lethal restraint position.” Even if it’s performed correctly, there is a chance of asphyxia.
Staff noticed that Max had become unresponsive, and one of them began performing CPR. Paramedics were called and Max was first rushed to Mercy Folsom, in critical condition. Then he was later transferred to UC Davis Medical center, where he passed away.
Max’s family has retained Seth Goldstein, a child abuse attorney, to represent them.
The details about how exactly Max was restrained is unclear, and Goldstein aims to uncover more information about it. Any behavior that ends in death “short of him trying to kill somebody else” is inappropriate, Goldstein says.
“If they were holding him down,” Goldestein told CBS, “and, of course, if that inhibited his ability to breathe — or the fact that he hyperventilated because of the behavior that he was experiencing and was being restrained — again, that’s inappropriate.”
The inaccurate reports about Max (like those saying he was 6 feet tall and weighed about 280 pounds, and had “severe” autism) are concerning as well.
The California Department of Education (CDE) investigated the incident immediately, and released a report on December 5th. It has suspended the school’s certification, which simply means it can’t enroll new students.
In their report, the CDE stated the staff utilized “emergency intervention” instead of methods that were outlined in his behavioral intervention plan. Their extreme handling of the situation was used for a predictable behavior and was also used longer than necessary, with “an amount of force which is not reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.”
Even though Max has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and a BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan), and he was exhibiting behavior that was not out of the ordinary, extreme measures were taken.
The report also stated that staff’s actions were “harmful to the health, welfare, and safety of an individual with exceptional needs.”
One mother who has a son in Max’s class who is also on the spectrum told the Sacramento Bee what her son had witnessed in class that day. According to her son, Max had kicked a wall, and so the teacher and teacher’s aid restrained Max “for hours.” After Max became unresponsive, staff told him to stop “pretending he was sleeping.” This is something students do sometimes so that staff will let them go. However, after Max was immobile for 30 minutes, staff realized he was unresponsive and called the paramedics.
An additional student at Guiding Hands also reported that Max’s troublesome behavior was kicking the wall.
A spokesman for Guiding Hands said that school officials were “concerned” about innaccuracies in the report that ran in the Sacramento Bee, but did not elaborate.
There have been protests in front of the California Department of Education
demanding that Guiding Hands be shut down.
As of December 13th, the school is still open.
Learn more in this video.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.