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The School Where A 13-Year-Old Autistic Student Died After Being Physically Restrained Allegedly Broke State Law

The California Department of Education has suspended the school's certification.

Last updated on December 11, 2018, at 6:01 p.m. ET

Posted on December 11, 2018, at 5:58 p.m. ET

A Northern California school where a 13-year-old student on the autism spectrum became unresponsive and later died after being physically restrained allegedly violated state law, state education officials said.

Max Benson, 13.
Benson family

Max Benson, 13.

In a Dec. 5 letter notifying Guiding Hands School administrator Cindy Keller of its decision to suspend the school's certification, the California Department of Education said it had "sufficient evidence" to show that staff had restrained the child "for longer than was necessary" and "with an amount of force which is not reasonable and necessary under the circumstances."

As a result of the suspension, the El Dorado Hills school won't be allowed to accept additional students until at least Dec. 31, 2019.

The letter, first reported by the Sacramento Bee and obtained by BuzzFeed News, also said that the staff's use of restraints on the student was not in accordance with his behavior intervention plan, and that the emergency intervention was used for predictable behavior.

"Current evidence supports a finding that GHS staff's actions were harmful to the health, welfare, and safety of an individual with exceptional needs," Department of Education officials said.

Authorities said the student, identified by his family's attorney as Max Benson of Davis, California, became violent and needed to be restrained by staff at the El Dorado Hills school "to prevent injury of staff and students" on Nov. 28.

Benson died the next day at a local hospital. His cause of death has not yet been determined, according to the Sacramento County Coroner's Office.

El Dorado County Sheriff's Sgt. Moke Auwae told BuzzFeed News Tuesday that detectives were almost done with their investigation into the incident and planned to submit their report to the district attorney's office soon.

Auwae added that investigators were not planning to include a recommendation on whether criminal charges should be filed in the case.

"The DA's office will decide whether or not charges will be filed," he said.

A representative for the district attorney's office did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.

On Monday, a small group of protesters gathered outside the Department of Education to demand the school be shut down.

Katie Kaufman, a 20-year-old former Guiding Hands student, told the Bee she was put in a facedown restraint multiple times and once was body-slammed onto a cement floor at the school.

"This school should have been shut down years ago," Kaufman said. "They should have listened, and not have waited until someone died. It was a matter of time."

Bill Ainsworth, a spokesperson for the department, told BuzzFeed News the state is continuing to investigate the school to see if further action is necessary.

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