Parents of teen who drowned in SRVHS pool sue school district, teacher

Civil complaint alleges PE teacher was looking at phone while students tread water

The family of 15-year-old Ben Curry, who drowned during class in the San Ramon Valley High School pool in early May, has officially filed a lawsuit against the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, claiming negligence and willful misconduct resulted in the freshman's death.

Filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court on Tuesday, the suit alleges that not only did the SRVUSD fail to install proper safety policies to prevent Curry's death, but that the boy's physical education teacher, Aaron Becker, failed to properly supervise the class, was seen looking down at his cellphone instead of watching the kids and lacked valid lifeguard certification.

Becker, who remains employed as a teacher, varsity football head coach and associate athletic director, is named as a defendant, along with SRVUSD, in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Curry's parents, Karen and Thomas.

"Plaintiffs believe that the SRVUSD and its employees owed a duty of care to Benjamin Curry to supervise, protect, assist and control the safety of Benjamin, and they failed to do so," attorney Andrew C. Schwartz, from the Walnut Creek firm Casper, Meadows, Schwartz & Cook, wrote in the lawsuit.

"Plaintiffs further believe that other school district employees, breached their duty of care to them, and to Benjamin, when they carelessly and negligently trained and supervised Aaron Becker, and failed to provide any guidelines, policies, procedures, rules or regulations such as limiting class size, or creating lesson plans for the physical education classes," it continued.

The family seeks general, special and punitive damages as well as reimbursement for medical, funeral and other costs resulting from Curry's death.

Curry was pronounced dead at a local hospital after drowning during class on May 8. The boy became unresponsive underwater toward the end of the class's fourth-period swim session, and he was not discovered submerged in the pool until the start of the next PE period, after lunch.

The lawsuit alleges surveillance footage captured by SRVHS cameras shows Becker looking at his cellphone while he was supervising the 57 students in the pool, directing them to tread water for three consecutive minutes and extending the time an extra 30 seconds if they grabbed the lane rope. "During that time, Benjamin Curry became exhausted, slipped under the water and drowned," the suit said.

The suit further contends that no other teachers or lifeguards were present to assist Becker in monitoring the class, and Becker's own lifeguard certification had expired on March 16.

After their investigation Danville police recommended no criminal charges against the Becker or the district, stating that detectives found no signs of foul play or criminal neglect -- confirming findings from the county coroner's autopsy report that the death was accidental and not self-inflicted as some initial reports falsely suggested.

"For approximately six months after this incident, neither the school district, nor the high school administrators, made any effort to correct the false narrative permeating the community surrounding Benjamin's death," the lawsuit said of the false reports.

SRVUSD officials stated they are unable to comment on issues pertaining to pending litigation, but have remained in contact with the Curry family attorney over issues related to the suit.

"This event was and will remain a tragedy in our hearts and minds forever. The district sincerely apologizes to the Curry family and all community members. There are no words to describe the collective sorrow following the loss of Ben," SRVUSD spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich said Tuesday.

"The district recognizes its responsibility to safeguard all students," she added. "Since the tragedy, the district has suspended the use of pools for all district physical education classes. The district also instituted a requirement that every time district pools are in use, dedicated and certified lifeguards will be present."

Earlier this month, SRVUSD Superintendent Rick schmitt released a statement publicly apologizing on behalf of the district for the death of the boy, promising to continue to review the district's safety procedures.

Schmitt and district officials have not confirmed whether Becker, then-first-year SRVHS principal Jason Krolikowski or any other employee at the Danville school was reprimanded by the district in connection with Curry's death on campus last school year.

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20 people like this
Posted by Yeah
a resident of Livermore
on Nov 27, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Yeah is a registered user.

Will the parents also get baseball bats and five minutes alone in a locked room with the coach. It takes a certain kind of species to do what he did. My revulsion at his conduct and his lack of concern for this child and all the others under his care cannot be described in words. And he still has a job. Why? Do you want your child in the pool with him?

12 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2018 at 6:40 pm

I am just mortified at how this could happen. I want to know where the other 56 students were in relation to him during the time in which this happened. How did NOT ONE PERSON notice him slip under or disappear, or remain in the pool after every single person left?

3 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Nov 27, 2018 at 6:50 pm


Thank God we have lawyers looking out for the interests of students.

21 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Ponderosa
on Nov 27, 2018 at 7:43 pm

Horrible tragedy that could have been avoided. I hope our pusd administrators are reviewing their policies and certifications regarding the use and supervision of students in pools at PUSD. From what I have seen and heard at pusd, we are no better than Svsd at supervising students in the pool. Let’s make sure a tragedy like this never happens again.

27 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of Danville
on Nov 27, 2018 at 8:12 pm

How could the school district for 6 months after this tragedy allow the community to believe it was a suicide, and not speak up, show deep sorrow, apologize and make a public statement that it was an accidental drowning? NO sense of regard, remorse, or humanity. Why no lifegaurd? Why did that kid sit at the bottem of that pool for an hour? Why didnt that teacher take a head count as those students left the pool? They wanted it brushed aside and forgotten. Why did they let that teacher return to teach and coach this year? They wanted the community to believe they were not at fault. I am so disgusted at the lack of compassion or responsibility of any kind. A fifteen year old boy drowned on that guys dime. A life is forever gone that could have been preventated. So many wrongs here. My heart breaks for the Curry family and Ben Curry. All of this is incomprehensible.

9 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Nov 27, 2018 at 8:40 pm

You hold the school accountable for the actions of a teacher protected by a union. Why not ask why the union is protecting this individual?

18 people like this
Posted by comment
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2018 at 8:54 pm

Anyone who has had any child in any public school class in the Tri-Valley knows many teachers do nothing but sit around and look at their cell phones and stare at their MacBooks.

Who knows what they are looking at. Facebook? Gambling sites? Worse? But what everyone knows is that these teachers aren't teaching and certainly aren't supervising the kids.

They do this at PUSD in both the classroom and outside when they are supposed to be "supervising" children on the playground.

This teacher needs to be arrested and criminally prosecuted. Someone also needs to file a complaint against this "teacher" to the state Commission on credentialing bureau.

4 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Ponderosa
on Nov 28, 2018 at 11:11 am

It's so hard to fire a teacher because of the union. Teachers know this and they take advantage of it. I've heard first hand numerous teachers do not really teach in class, students complaints but the school do nothing. Some students get outside help to learn because the teachers are not teaching. There should be a policy in place where if a teacher gets bad reviews from the majority of students at the end of the year, that teacher should be let go and let someone else who's more qualified to teach.

7 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Livermore
on Nov 28, 2018 at 11:18 am

Police Unions and other public employees need to stop covering up for Teacher Unions.
Aaron Becker needs to be prosecuted.
Any police officer or District Attorney that tried to cover this up should be prosecuted as well in FEDERAL COURT!

13 people like this
Posted by FHS POOL
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2018 at 1:42 pm

Don't get me started on high school pools and the lack of coach, admin or AD supervision. Several years ago at FHS, there was an incident of bullying during water polo practice. A student ended up getting in horrible trouble because they chose to defend themselves. Where were the coaches?? Huddled on the side of a building out of site of the pool, blocking themselves from the wind because they were cold. To my knowledge, those coaches were allowed to continue coaching. Let's talk about Lauren Andrade, FHS varsity swim coach, psych teacher. Where did she go? Her teaching credential is revoked and she got a settlement of $40,000. I wonder if her sudden disappearance from FHS had to do with the lack of admin or AD supervision in her classroom or at the pool? Hmmmmm. I really hope that PUSD has learned from these two incidents and know the USA swim guidelines. I'm sorry for the loss of the SRV student. Such a tragedy. Totally unacceptable for the coach not to have noticed.

9 people like this
Posted by Doug
a resident of Birdland
on Nov 28, 2018 at 9:22 pm

Pretty shocking that this PE teacher was not properly monitoring his students while they were undergoing a water treading stress test in the pool. He should have known that there might be students who would have difficulties and he should have been on the lookout for them. Pretty clear case of dereliction of duty, IMO.

Students should have also been assigned a partner to watch in case the person started to have problems. No excuse for a tragedy like this to happen in a crowded pool.

7 people like this
Posted by Laverne
a resident of Birdland
on Nov 28, 2018 at 10:09 pm

This should be a lesson to all PE teachers... even at Foothill some of the coaches are very lackadaisical. Not only do they not supervise the kids properly, they also allow bullying and/or not notice it. It is very common for the coaches to have a small crowd of popular students hanging around them during PE...while other kids have to exercise & even get bullied ...teased & tormented...whether it be on the court, in the pool (during diving especially), and on the field. The kids are also made to "weigh in" for the state's records, during which the most popular girl gets to record every girls weight. Ridiculous. Bullying doesnt have to always be name calling, or can be facing a popular girl & having her make sure you weigh in & then having to tell her your weight. That is just one example, there many, many more & those are just in PE at Foothill. Imagine what goes on everywhere else on school property, all under the 'supervision.'

Like this comment
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Nov 29, 2018 at 8:00 pm

I dont agree with your example as it relates to coaches allowing bullying to occur. I agree it supports another example of poor judgement by a teacher, but lets not throw embarrassment or insecurity into bullying. I agree of the student uses the information to belittle the other it can become bullying, but the decision itself is not- it is poor judgement

2 people like this
Posted by Laverne
a resident of Birdland
on Nov 30, 2018 at 5:13 pm

Pleasanton Parent,
You are probably right... the female students were just being insecure having a popular girl know how much they weigh. Female teens insecure about their weight?
I am sure those were the only insecure 15 year old girls at the school, or maybe in town...because we all females would just love to weigh in & report out weight to anyone. Yaaa! fun!!

Like this comment
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Nov 30, 2018 at 9:15 pm

I guess my point is lost on you laverne.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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