El Dorado County school loses its state certification after the death of a student with special needs


When a severely autistic teen at an El Dorado County school for special needs acted out violently, staff put him in a restraint hold, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The boy, identified as Max Benson, stopped breathing, and a teacher at Guiding Hands School began CPR before paramedics arrived. He was taken to a Folsom hospital, then to a UC Davis hospital, but died.

Sheriff’s officials said there was no evidence of foul play in the November incident, but the California Department of Education announced it was investigating the school’s actions.


Now, the Education Department said it is revoking the school’s state certification, and all students referred there from public schools would need to be moved.

A week after the incident, the department determined that staff violated school code when they restrained the boy and suspended the private school, preventing it from enrolling new students. The department didn’t know the boy had died until officials visited the school unannounced, according to the suspension letter.

The department said in its initial report: “Evidence supports a finding that GHS staff’s actions were harmful to the health, welfare and safety of an individual with exceptional needs.”

School districts in the area that don’t provide services for students with special needs contract out to Guiding Hands School, said Alex Barrios, a spokesman for the Sacramento Unified School District. The districts that worked with the school were notified Wednesday that they had to move their students from Guiding Hands by Friday.

“When the incident happened about a month ago, we reached out to all of the families that had a student enrolled there, let them know we were aware of the situation and offered to assist them in moving to an alternate school if they chose,” Barrios said. “Some families moved at that time.”

Sacramento Unified is moving its 26 students still enrolled at Guiding Hands to schools in Arden Arcade, South Sacramento and Orangevale, he said.


The Elk Grove Unified School District is moving 53 students, said district spokeswoman Xanthi Pinkerton.

The Folsom Cordova Unified School District is moving four students, said spokesman Daniel Thigpen.

Because Guiding Hands’ certification was revoked, public schools won’t be able to use special-education funds to pay for its services for their students. But the department does not have authority to close a private school, said department spokeswoman Cynthia Butler.

Representatives for the Guiding Hands School could not be reached for comment, but in a letter to one parent obtained by the Sacramento Bee, school officials said that they intended to appeal the revocation and that the school would remain open for as long as possible.

The department said that its investigation is ongoing and that Guiding Hands has yet to give the department written notice about preventive measures being taken.

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