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A candle-light vigil honored the 13-year-old El Dorado Hills student with autism who died in late November after being restrained by a teacher.

The six-foot, 280 pound teenager was restrained by a teacher during a violent outburst at the Guiding Hands School on November 28, according to Sgt. Anthony Prencipe with the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department.

During the restraint, the teen became unresponsive and was taken to an area hospital where he died two days later, Sgt. Prencipe said.

Guiding Hands is a private school that educational agencies contract with to serve students with disabilities, the California Board of Education said in a statement. Those students are determined to need a more restrictive environment.

The death of Max Benson, 13, has touched many in the surrounding communities, especially parents of children with special needs.

Cassandra Burgess-Alex, a parent of a child with autism, drove 40 miles from Elk Grove to show support for the Benson family.

“I wanted to come out here and support the family and other parents that have fears and concerns just like me,” Burgess-Alex said.

More than 30 friends, concerned community members, and parents attended the vigil. They lit candles, brought flowers, and offered words of encouragement.

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A community gathers to remember the life of 13 year old Max Benson, who passed away after being restrained at school.

Attorney Seth Goldstein, who specializes in child abuse, is representing the Benson family. He attended the vigil on behalf of the parents who are struggling to cope with the traumatic loss.

“His mother is devastated,” Goldstein said. “She can’t think or talk about him without breaking down.”

California law allows educators to restrain students when their behavior poses a threat to themselves or others.

The Benson family is now seeking to end the practice in California schools and to close down schools who continue the practice, Goldstein said.

“These ‘restraint’ techniques are so dangerous and traumatizing that a number of states specifically outlaw or limit their use,” Goldstein said in a press release.

Spokesperson Scott Rose with Guiding Hands Schools said in a statement that faculty and staff are trained to use a recognized protocol for restraint when de-escalation techniques are not effective.

“We are devastated by this loss and remain committed to the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Rose said in a press release.

On December 5, the California Board of Education suspended the certification of Guiding Hands School while it investigates the mater.

In a letter addressed to Cindy Keller, site administrator for Guiding Hands School, the California Board of Education cited violations including the use of emergency intervention for predictable behavior, used longer than necessary, and unreasonable use of force.

The Guiding Hands School will continue to operate but may not accept any new students during the suspension, the California Board of Education said.


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