Parents of teen who drowned on campus file claim with SRVUSD

Claim states the district did not do enough to ensure student safety

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.

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13 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Danville
on Oct 12, 2018 at 6:55 am

Aaron Becker is SRV high school varsity football coach. This fact seem to be missing in the above article. With this fact the behavior of the PE teacher makes more sense.

Like this comment
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Oct 12, 2018 at 5:03 pm

Pleasanton Parent is a registered user.

Parent, missing the relationship between the individual and resulting incident.

What about this particular individual is more meaningful to the students death?

21 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Danville
on Oct 12, 2018 at 10:43 pm

The PE teacher Aaron Becker treated a 9th grade swim class like his varsity football team. With a group punishment because some of the students could not tread water for 3 minutes without holding on to the lane dividers. During this additional 30 seconds Ben became exhausted and slid into the water. At that point Becker blew the whistle and walked away from pool. Leaving Ben to drown. The connection is that Becker created a dangerous condition. Unlike a football field that you can collapse on the water was fatal. Taking football methods to a pool with 57 students a single adult to supervise resulted in a drowning.

6 people like this
Posted by Barb
a resident of Danville
on Oct 13, 2018 at 8:02 am

This version of the story is lacking. [Portion removed due to promoting websites]

5 people like this
Posted by L.K.
a resident of Danbury Park
on Oct 15, 2018 at 10:06 am

Stop calling a child's death an 'incident'.
I worked as a substitute P.E. teacher a few times. I was worried when I discovered that children would do exercises even if they had injuries/illnesses that made those exercises hurtful to them (after doing them, one or two would mention an injury.) I stopped class and said, "If you have any reason that makes doing any physical movement I tell you to do a bad idea, don't do it. You don't have to discuss it with me, just don't do it." I doubt the typical substitute would tell them that. I was very concerned with how dangerously obedient the children were. We are not doing right by our children when we teach them to be blindly obedient to teachers. If only this boy had disobeyed the teacher, but unfortunately, he behaved like all the kids I observed in the P.E. classes I taught-they are scarily obedient.

5 people like this
Posted by L.K.
a resident of Danbury Park
on Oct 15, 2018 at 10:40 am

I want to make it clear that in my previous comment I am not faulting the students for being obedient above all else; I am faulting the staff and parents for requiring this of children. Students are much more vulnerable to abuse or the consequences of the incompetence/terrible judgement of school staff if we teach them blind obedience (and that is what we do.) Tell your child, repeatedly, that you will support them disobeying school staff if they feel it is psychologically or physically damaging for them to obey. You are living in La La land if you think every adult hired by the school district deserves your child's blind obedience. Worse, your beliefs are dangerous to your child.

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