California school where autistic boy died is shutting down

Jan. 23, 2019
Guiding Hands School in El Dorado Hills, Calif., is where Max Benson, 13, died after being put in a face-down restraint position.

A school for autistic students in California has announced that it will shut down, several weeks after a 13-year-old student died while being restrained.

The Sacramento Bee reports that Guiding Hands School in El Dorado Hills, Calif., will close its doors forever on Friday, the school said a statement released by its attorney, Cynthia Lawrence.

Guiding Hands is under investigation in connection with the death of Max Benson,13, on Nov. 28. Max died after being placed in a face-down restraint by school staff. The El Dorado Hills school incident has sparked an investigation by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department as well as the California Department of Education.

The state's education department found the school violated multiple rules by using the restraints on Max. It found the staff’s actions were “harmful to the health, welfare or safety” of Max. The boy was restrained for 1 hour and 45 minutes, according to court documents.

The state does not have the authority to close a school, but decided in December to suspend the school. That prevented Guiding Hands, which contracts with area school districts to provide educational services for children with autism and other developmental issues, from accepting new students.

On Jan. 9, the state decertified the school, and more than a dozen districts began removing their students.

Guiding Hands' decision to close would allow another non-public school to take over El Dorado Hills facility and property, according to the school’s statement. The new school would be able to hire former staffers. The move would also enable Guiding Hands’ students to return. 

The school, which has been open for 25 years, is the subject of three investigations by the state Department of Education, according to court documents. 

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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