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Editorial: Remember Ben Curry

Vigil to honor memory of teen who drowned in school pool; gov't agencies continue to deny public records requests

A candlelight vigil will be held next Wednesday evening in Danville to mark one year since the death of 15-year-old Ben Curry, who drowned during a PE class at San Ramon Valley High School.

Ben's parents, Karen and Tom, are hosting the vigil. "We want to light up the sky so that Ben will see, hear and feel the outpouring of love for him ... Forever in our hearts ... Keeping Ben's memory alive," Karen wrote.

One has to wonder if any San Ramon Valley Unified School District board members or staff will pay their respects to Ben's parents.

The teacher in charge of the PE class the day Ben died, Aaron Becker, was never put on leave, even during an investigation. The district "lawyered up" within days of the incident.

Not only was this offensive, but then, to make it even worse, the district didn't even formally apologize to the community for the death of a student on their watch for six months. Then they have refused, as has the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office, to release any substantive information about the circumstances surrounding young Ben's death.

The district staff and board seem to be more concerned with protecting themselves than showing compassion or trying to win back the trust of parents and community members. They told us they have no correspondence between the district and its representatives and Becker, the San Ramon Valley Education Association or the Curry family and their attorneys during the period of May 8 and Dec. 19, 2018, which seems unlikely. They claim attorney-client privilege when asked for the investigation documents.

The California Government Code pertaining to public records and exemptions states, "Nothing in this section prevents any agency from opening its records concerning the administration of the agency to public inspection, unless disclosure is otherwise prohibited by law."

The district and Board of Trustees have made a decision to keep this information from the public.

Sheriff David Livingston's office seems to be refusing requests for public documents just because it can. In the office's response to our renewed request April 5, we were told, "This time you are coupling your request with a threat of litigation ... I can assure you we are very familiar with the legal requirements set forth in the Public Records Act and that we scrupulously observe these requirements."

In other words, they will cite any code to keep the public in the dark, even though the "Better Government Ordinance" adopted by Contra Costa County in 1995 states that after an investigation is complete and the district attorney or court determines that a prosecution will not be sought against the subject involved, investigatory records are to be disclosed.

According to the ordinance, "The district attorney and sheriff are encouraged to cooperate with the press and other members of the public in allowing access to local records pertaining to investigations, arrests and other law enforcement activity"

Invoking exemptions not required by state or federal law to exclude documents requested is a willful and knowing lack of transparency and attempt to keep information from the press and public, and both of these taxpayer-funded agencies are guilty.

Meanwhile, a Texas swim coach was sentenced in December after being found guilty of endangering a child in the June 2016 drowning death of 13-year-old Elise Cerami. The coach was sentenced to probation instead of jail.

"We never wanted her to go to jail. Her family has been through enough. We wanted her to be held accountable," said Elise's mother, Lori Cerami.

Someone needs to be held accountable for the death of a 15-year-old boy in a class at a high school, especially since Aaron Becker is still teaching and coaching football, while the Curry family is grieving and the community continues to question why Becker is being protected and what the district and sheriff's office are hiding.

Accountability speaks of integrity, honesty and transparency, which is sorely lacking in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District and Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office in this case.

The SRVUSD board trustees, to whom Superintendent Rick Schmitt ultimately reports, and the Contra Costa sheriff are all elected positions. If you are outraged, tell these elected officials now through emails and at meetings and again at the ballot box in 2020 for the school board members and 2022 for Livingston.

Let's help the Curry family keep Ben's memory alive by showing support at the vigil, which is set to start at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (May 8) in front of the Danville Library at 400 Front St., and by holding the parties responsible for his death accountable.

Editor's note: Click through these links to view our renewed California Public Records Act requests submitted to last month SRVUSD and the sheriff's office.

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