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Mom continues fight for son as US Department of Education finds school district committed rights violations

U.S. Department of Education reached an agreement with Davis Joint Unified School District to revise their restraint and seclusion policies.

DAVIS, Calif. — A family is finally seeing progress toward justice four years after the death of their 13-year-old son, Max Benson. He died after being restrained at Guiding Hands, a non-public school, in 2018.

The United States Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights reached an agreement with Davis Joint Unified School District Wednesday to revise their restraint and seclusion policies for students with disabilities by the end of January 2023.

Max's mother, Stacia Langley, says this is a good first step in the fight to making sure children with disabilities are safe in school, but there's still a long way to go.

Langley is dedicating her life to pushing for better treatment for kids like Max.

"He was the heart of our family," she said. "He was so filled with joy and energy, especially this time of year during the holidays. He is missed so much."

She said he had a big sense of humor, something she remembers fondly.

"He was a character," said Langley.

Not a day goes by that she doesn't think about Max.

"I think about it when I wake up and I think about it when I go to bed and I think about it when I dream," she said. "I cant — I don't want to talk about the details, I don't want to talk about what he looked like, I don't want to talk about lying in bed with him and telling him all the good times we had while his heart was stopping, but that's what happened and I don't want it to happen again to anyone."

After conducting an investigation, the Department of Education also found that the district violated the rights of three students with disabilities. In a letter to the district, the department outlined ways the district can resolve the violations.

"This was an inch but there's miles to go. I could rest if we could outlaw restraint against children," said Langley. "We hope it's something that just sweeps the country."

Attorney Seth Goldstein, representing Max's family and nine others, said two lawsuits have also been filed against the school.

He said next week a mediation session is scheduled to try to reach a settlement in the case.

The district said in a statement they plan to provide additional training to staff, review cases of restraint and provide the civil rights office with information in any restraint or seclusion cases. 

The district added: "We remain committed to the safety of our students and staff, and we intend to comply with the Office of Civil Rights requests." 

In the summer, several employees were indicted for involuntary manslaughter in this case. 


"In early 2019, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) initiated a compliance review of more than 20 school districts throughout the United States, including DJUSD, regarding restraint and seclusion practices following the tragic death of a DJUSD student, Max Benson. Max passed away while under the care of staff at a local non-public school, Guiding Hands, and the staff responsible are rightfully being criminally prosecuted for their actions.

As a result of this tragedy, the state of California established new laws that provide additional regulations related to non-public schools regarding restraint and seclusion practices, staff training and parent notification. Additionally, the change in law requires increased monitoring of non-public schools by the state, local SELPA and school districts.

The resolution agreement with the OCR includes commitments by the District to provide additional training to District staff, continue the District’s current practice of reviewing any cases of restraint or seclusion within the District or non-public school and to provide OCR with information regarding any restraint or seclusion in the District or DJUSD student enrolled in a non-public school.

We remain committed to the safety of our students and staff, and we intend to comply with the Office of Civil Rights requests."

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