Three former staff members at a California school are facing manslaughter charges in the 2018 death of an autistic teen boy, who died after being restrained face-first on the floor for an hour.
Max Benson, 13, was a student at the Guiding Hands School in El Dorado Hills when he was reportedly restrained by three employees after he became violent.
The three defendants, identified as Cindy Keller, the El Dorado Hills-based school’s onetime executive director; Starrane Meyers, its former principal; and Kimberly Wohlwend, a special education teacher, have all entered not guilty pleas, according to PEOPLE.
Indictment Comes Three Years After Criminal Charges Over Boy’s Death
The Guiding Hands School itself was also indicted on July 15 on a single count of involuntary manslaughter, three years after criminal charges were brought against the school and three educators for felony counts of involuntary manslaughter back in 2019.
PEOPLE reports that Max died two days after being restrained and having his face pressed against the school floor for an hour on November 28, 2018.
The boy eventually became unresponsive, and a teacher performed CPR on him. He was revived and transported to UC Davis Medical Center where he later died.
School Permanently Closed After Death Following 25 Years In Operation
The California Department of Education suspended certification for school, which specializes in special needs students, a week after Max’s death according to the outlet.
It was eventually closed altogether after being in operation for over 25 years. A new school currently operates in the same location, per PEOPLE.
The three staffers are scheduled to appear in court for a pre-trial hearing on September 2.
A criminal grand jury has indicted an El Dorado County private school and three of its staffers in the death of Max Benson, a 13-year-old student with autism who suffered fatal brain damage after being held face-down in a prone restraint. https://t.co/Pnekct0Vko #endseclusion pic.twitter.com/paIUsDbtP0
— The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (@endseclusion) July 22, 2022
Public Outcry Over Practice Of Restraining People With Autism
On social media, public outcry has called for an end to restraint and seclusion tactics for autistic students, which many are calling abuse.
The practice, a part of what’s called applied behavioral analysis therapy, has been criticized online in the wake of Max’s death.
“Robert Bucklin was restrained for nearly 2 hours after he said “yes dear” to a staff member of the Agape Boarding School. Staff told him the only way they would stop was if he stopped crying for help,” the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint tweets.
The group also pointed to a 2008 report by the United Nations that essentially likened restraining to torture.
A UN report draws attention to concerns that persons with disabilities are frequently subjected to severe forms of restraint and seclusion. He raised concerns that such practices remain invisible and are not recognized as torture. #endseclusion pic.twitter.com/p9lSFCm0uP
— The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (@endseclusion) July 25, 2022
“A UN report draws attention to concerns that persons with disabilities are frequently subjected to severe forms of restraint and seclusion. He raised concerns that such practices remain invisible and are not recognized as torture.”
Another person noted how the practice “doesn’t stop a child from being autistic, all it does is force them to mask (it) all the time.”
“ABA is abuse,” one person wrote on Twitter. “The core of ABA is changing behaviour. It’s about looking at autistic behaviour, seeing it as bad, and forcing a child to hide that behaviour. ABA doesn’t stop a child from being autistic, all it does is force them to mask all the time.”
A number of tweets criticizing the practice that circulated in the wake of Max’s death were using the hashtags #JusticeForMax and #ShineOnMax.