The San Ramon Valley Unified School District has been hit with a claim from the family of 15-year-old Benjamin Curry, who drowned in the San Ramon Valley High School pool in early May.
The claim -- which typically precedes a lawsuit -- argues that Curry’s physical education teacher failed to properly supervise the students in his class, further calling it negligence done with a “willful and knowing” disregard for student safety.
“Mr. (Aaron) Becker's actions show that he was aware of the probable and dangerous consequences of his conduct, and deliberately failed to avoid those consequences,” the claim reads. “Additionally (SRVUSD) and its employees failed to properly train, hire and supervise those individuals who were responsible for Benjamin Curry’s death.”
Prepared by the Curry family’s lawyer Andrew C. Schwartz, the claim states that toward the end of class, Curry drowned after Becker had the class tread water for three minutes, not allowing students to touch the pool’s ropes.
After extending the exercise for an additional 30 seconds, the claim alleges that Becker failed to notice Curry slip under the water and drown due to exhaustion and then dismissed the class without noticing Curry was not among the students leaving the pool.
The claim further noted that no lifeguards were present to assist the teacher in monitoring the class of 57 students, and the district did not have adequate policies in place protecting students in school pools.
Released in June, the Contra Costa County coroner's autopsy report and Danville police investigation concluded that the drowning was an accident and not self-inflicted as some initial reports suggested. Police recommended no criminal charges and determined no criminal negligence contributed to the boy's death in the campus pool.
“As class ended, students were seen swimming to the edge of the pool and leaving the pool area. Based on camera angles, it was unclear if (Curry) left the pool with the other students or if he remained in the pool. Video surveillance captured no further activity in the pool area until approximately 1:40 p.m., when fifth-period swim class arrived at the pool area," Danville police officer Kyle Rhoton recounted in the coroner's report, after watching a school video recording of the incident.
SRVUSD officials, who received the claim last week, said they have not had time to review it and are unable to comment on its contents.
Officials did, however, address one aspect of the claim, which stated that the district failed to correct the false narrative that Curry took his own life.
“As a school district, we were not in a position to comment on an open police investigation into the cause of death. What we did do is encourage our families not to speculate on the cause of death or engage in rumors,” SRVUSD spokesperson Elizabeth Graswich said.
Graswich highlighted a letter sent to community members and parents in May by SRVHS principal Jason Krolikowski, encouraging them to not participate in uninformed speculation.
“We understand that there are many rumors circulating in the community, but we want to discourage students from discussing these rumors since they may turn out to be inaccurate and can be hurtful and unfair to family and friends. We'll do our best to give you accurate information as it becomes known to us,” he wrote at the time.
Since the incident, SRVUSD has not offered swimming as a part of their PE curriculum, and pools are currently limited to water sports teams such as swimming and water polo. Additionally, in August the district announced that it would now mandate every pool be staffed with at least three lifeguards when in use, following safety guidelines established by the American Red Cross.
Previous projections indicate that the lifeguard program will cost about $125,000 for the fall semester.