Education

‘Beyond insensitive’: El Dorado Hills school, shut after boy’s death, holds party fundraiser

What supporters of Max Benson’s family said after Guiding Hands decertification hearing

Supporters of Max Benson's family talk after Guiding Hands School’s decertification was upheld by a Sacramento Superior Court judge on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.
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Supporters of Max Benson's family talk after Guiding Hands School’s decertification was upheld by a Sacramento Superior Court judge on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.

The El Dorado Hills school under investigation in the death of a student with autism is under fire for holding a going-away party fundraiser for staff, parents and students.

Guiding Hands School came under scrutiny after the Nov. 28 death of 13-year-old Max Benson, who died at UC Davis Medical Center a day after being placed in a face-down restraint by school staff. The incident sparked an investigation by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office as well as the California Department of Education.

Guiding Hands permanently closed its doors last month, after a judge upheld the state’s revocation of its certification. The school said it couldn’t financially survive after local districts pulled most of the 120 students out.

According to a GoFundMe page, Guiding Hands School is throwing a party for “anyone who wants to take part in this positive closure.” The page was created Feb. 4 and is no longer accepting donations.

Former school employee Quynn Meyers-Keller, who created the fundraising page and is the son of Guiding Hands Principal Starranne Meyers and Executive Director Cindy Keller, wrote that the funds will be spent on entertainment and refreshments. He also said that anyone contributing negativity would be asked to leave.

The party, scheduled for Feb. 23 at the school, had raised more than half of its $2,000 goal as of Friday afternoon.

“This is a good cause and the students, parents and employees need the proper closure and support,” David Chambers said in a comment on the site.

But the page was soon inundated with angry comments – later deleted – some of them from friends of Max Benson’s family.

“While I am sure that many students and families have had good experiences in the past, they can never overshadow Max’s death,” user Meredith Roth wrote on the page. “How on Earth can you all celebrate in the very building where Max died? Beyond insensitive.”

Max’s teacher, Katie Jackson, left a comment consisting only of a black-and-white photo of the boy.

The comments section has since been suspended, but the party remains scheduled.

Meyers-Keller did not respond to email requests for comment.

Another non-public school will take over the Guiding Hands facility. The new school would be able to hire former staffers, according to a statement by the school.

The school was the subject of three investigations by the state Department of Education involving multiple students, according to documents filed by the agency in Sacramento Superior Court.

The California Department of Education closed its investigation, but the school is still being investigated by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office. The District Attorney’s Office said that investigation will be completed in the next month.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.
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