News


SRVUSD formally apologizes for Ben Curry's death

Superintendent Schmitt also attempts to refute rumors; Curry family responds to statement

San Ramon Valley schools Superintendent Rick Schmitt publicly apologized on Friday for the on-campus death of San Ramon Valley High freshman Ben Curry, marking the first time district officials have issued a formal written apology district-wide since the freshman drowned in the school pool last school year.

Curry, 15, was pronounced dead at a local hospital after drowning during physical education class on May 8. The boy became unresponsive underwater toward the end of the class's fourth-period swim session, but he wasn't discovered until the start of the next PE period, after lunch.

"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," Schmitt said in a written statement released Friday afternoon.

"Despite pending litigation, the District wants to be responsive to the ongoing conversation and publicly apologize to the Curry family and all community members," Schmitt added. "The District continues its internal review on policies and procedures related to SRVUSD pools. The District recognizes its responsibility to safeguard all students."

Schmitt and district officials have not confirmed whether Curry's PE teacher Aaron Becker, first-year 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.

The Curry family filed a wrongful death claim with the district last month, alleging that not only did the PE teacher fail to properly supervise the students in his class but the district allowed malicious rumors surrounding the boys death to circulate unimpeded.

"They accept the districts apology, but there are a lot of unanswered questions that this statement does not address. And my clients will still, despite this apology, never get their son back," said attorney Andy Schwartz, who represents the Curry family.

In his statement Friday, Schmitt went on to address some rumors that circulated revolving the teen's death and attempted to refute them.

Confirming previously released information by the Contra Costa County Coroner's Office and the Danville Police Department, Schmitt refuted previous rumors that Curry's death was the result of suicide. The superintendent further confirmed that Curry did not drown after re-entering the pool when class had ended, as some initial reports suggested.

"Further, the District felt it was inappropriate to comment on the circumstances of this tragic accident during an open police investigation," Schmitt wrote.

While addressing the rumors, Schmitt did maintain that the district administration discouraged staff, students and families from spreading rumors following the drowning, adding that the district did not initially release Curry's name due to his family requesting privacy.

Last month the Curry family filed a claim -- which typically precedes litigation -- against the SRVUSD, claiming that Becker showed a "willful and knowing" disregard for student safety, resulting in the boy's death. Becker remains employed at San Ramon Valley High as a PE teacher, varsity head football coach and associate athletic director.

The claim further noted that no lifeguards were present to assist the teacher in monitoring the class of 57 students, a policy that has since changed.

In August, the district announced that it would now mandate every pool be staffed with at least three lifeguards when in use -- although swimming has been removed from the PE curriculum this semester.

Below is Schmitt's statement from Friday, in its entirety:

"Dear SRVUSD Parents and Staff,

As many of you know, Benjamin Curry drowned in the San Ramon Valley High School pool during his physical education class on May 8, 2018. 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.

Through this communication, the District wants to clarify rumors circulating in the community surrounding this tragic accident. One rumor is that Benjamin caused or contributed to his death. More specifically, part of the rumor is that his death may have been a suicide. Neither the Contra Costa County Coroner's Report, nor the Danville Police investigation, indicated that Benjamin caused or contributed to his death. The Coroner's Office and Danville Police found Benjamin's death was an accidental drowning. Another rumor claims that Benjamin drowned after reentering the pool following his 4th period physical education class. A video of the pool on May 8th shows that Benjamin entered the pool in 4th period with his classmates and did not exit the pool with his classmates at the end of the period.

Immediately following the tragedy, the District discouraged staff, students and families from spreading inaccurate and hurtful rumors. The Curry family initially asked the District to respect the family's privacy and not share Benjamin's name. The District honored that request. Further, the District felt it was inappropriate to comment on the circumstances of this tragic accident during an open police investigation. Despite pending litigation, the District wants to be responsive to the ongoing conversation and publicly apologize to the Curry family and all community members.

The District continues its internal review on policies and procedures related to SRVUSD pools. The District recognizes its responsibility to safeguard all students. 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.

There are no words to describe the collective sorrow following the loss of Ben. Please know the District has been and will continue to be in contact with the Curry family attorney to address their legal claim. By sharing the above information and offering our sincere apology, the District hopes to provide accurate information to support the Curry family and the community.

Sincerely,

Rick Schmitt

Superintendent

San Ramon Valley Unified School District"

Comments

68 people like this
Posted by Danville Parent
a resident of Danville
on Nov 2, 2018 at 3:56 pm

Little too late SRVUSD, don’t you think?

Did this actually come from your heart or because you were told to finally say something?

SRvUSD could have done something to prevent this, but they didn’t and a child died.

BOE step down and take responsibility for taking no action to prevent this.


21 people like this
Posted by Logikman
a resident of Danville
on Nov 2, 2018 at 4:12 pm

This is damage control, probably at the request of the SRVUSD counsel. It is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, it came too late.


66 people like this
Posted by Mom with kids at SRVHS
a resident of Danville
on Nov 2, 2018 at 4:26 pm

Friday afternoon- quietly apologize 6 months after the event. So weird and tacky.
We heard all the rumors for months and not a peep from school.
Leaves such a bad taste in my mouth about the leadership.

Why is this teacher not given a consequence? My daughter was suspended for a vape pen in her backpack.....
But this teacher doesn't have one thing happen to him, when a kid drowns during his watch.....it's like the 50's.
He was hired to #1 keep our kids safe, #2 teach them PE, #3 After-school lead football.

He continues to lead the football team? I guess SRVHS= football and sports. Not what's fair and right.


53 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Danville
on Nov 2, 2018 at 7:51 pm

Justice for Ben Curry!- Remove Aaron Becker from teaching at SRVUSD
Please sign petition at link below.
Web Link

No accountability. When is the policy going to be created that spells out pool safety. SRVUSD web site shows all the policies of the district and still no policy on pool safety. But talk is cheap lets see action.


52 people like this
Posted by Grandparent
a resident of Danville
on Nov 3, 2018 at 9:56 am

The letter from superintendent Schmitt while it’s will crafted, it was sent way too late. In reality it proves a lack of lack of leadership and institutional control at the SRVUSD. I actually question the sincerity versus just a part of their legal defense strategy.
If it was truly sincere it should have ended with telling us that Aaron Becker has been removed from the SRVHS campus along with Rick Schmitt’s resignation. Apologies are nice but are extremely shallow without consequential actions.
As a community we owe it to the Curry family to keep fighting for the proper consequences for those that allowed Ben’s death on their watch.


60 people like this
Posted by grateful4
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Nov 4, 2018 at 8:16 am

October 2017: CHS student dies by drowning, and is heroically revived, in PE swim unit on campus grounds during school hours while in the safe care of district personnel. (Thank you to those attentive CHS teacher-heroes/City of SR lifeguard-heroes that saved this students life!)

November 2017: CHS teacher pleads with the SRVUSD School Board for policy changes to protect all students from drowning in a similar situation in pool classes around the district.

May 8, 2018: SRVHS student dies on campus, in class at SRV pool, while under the care of district personnel. No lifeguards present (not a Town of Danville pool). DPD investigation immediately ensues, followed CCC D.A. investigation within four weeks. Certificated teacher - who also happens to be SRVHS Head Football Coach - was teaching PE swim unit where student dies during his class period has not yet missed a day of work due to Administrative Leave. SRVHS scheduled to play first NCS playoff game this Friday with all of the paid Coaching Staff to be in attendance.

October 23, 2018: SRVUSD School Board Meeting. Small group of enraged parents/teachers demand action from SRVUSD about pool safety policies and accountability for tragedy where Ben Curry was sacrificed due to gross negligence on the part of all-involved district parties. Local news media outlet KPIX present and runs the news story.

November 2, 2018: District makes first acknowledgement through an emailed announcement to the community regarding May 8 drowning.

November 3, 2018: Fatal DPD officer-involved shooting. Officer immediately put on leave. The county officer-involved protocol has been invoked, which means the Contra Costa County District Attorney will conduct an investigation.

The incident is being investigated by the Danville Police Department, Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff, and D.A.’s Office.


* Shaking my head.

*Questioning what the district is hiding by not putting teacher involved with fatality in his class period on immediate administrative leave, pending investigation.

* Still waiting for actual change, at least pool policies and safety proceedures, to be implemented.

* Praying for the safety of all children in our district.

* Grieving the loss of Ben Curry, who unwillingly sacrified his life, to bring light to the gross negligence, on multiple levels, in district policy and procedure.



9 people like this
Posted by Diane
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Nov 4, 2018 at 9:52 am

Grateful4, that is a perfect response. Demonizing anyone in this situation by insinuating that they don't care is pointless. You've simply stated facts, in a thorough and meaningful way. Thank you!


49 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Danville
on Nov 4, 2018 at 11:46 am

Teachers are suspended if they are suspected of doing something inappropriate. Aaron Becker's actions recorded on video tape resulted in the death of a student. The community is now aware that a varsity football coach's job is valued higher than the life of a student by SRVUSD.

To Ben Curry's family:
SRVUSD does not represent my values. I apologise to you for every day that we the community allows Aaron Becker to remain teaching. I can not fathom the pain you face with the knowledge that Aaron Becker walked away from your drowning son. I hope you can find some peace in knowing that I and 530 community members ( Web Link ) hold Aaron Becker accountable for the death of your son.


39 people like this
Posted by grateful4
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Nov 4, 2018 at 4:09 pm

Thank you, Diane. In the spirit of transparent disclosure, I authored my post specifically to highlight the negligence of the district in their handling of this tragedy from Day 1. It was preventable. It was foreseeable. They are responsible.

More importantly, Schmitt had the nerve to include in his Nov 2 communication that the district "felt it was inappropriate to comment on the circumstances of this tragic accident during an open police investigation." Apparently, it was completely appropriate to continue to allow the teacher to come to work and coach football during an open investigation.

This doesn't show compassion for the Curry's loss. Actions speak louder than words. Those words that landed in my email box on November 2nd are hollow. An apology means nothing without changed behavior. They have had 6 months to change their behavior.

I added yesterday's officer-involved fatal shooting to illuminate that investigations involving fatalities, regardless of whether first impressions dictate fault, usually land those directly involved on administrative leave, pending the outcome of said investigation. Police officers are sworn to protect and serve communities where they work. Are teachers not contracted to do nearly the same - protect and serve their students? A boy died in the care of the public school and the district has done nothing. It seems the school district believes that they are above the law.


37 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Danville
on Nov 5, 2018 at 2:15 pm

So the Police Officer putting his life on the line and protecting our community is placed on leave pending the investigation while Becker continues to teach after a child died on his watch.?

What a world we live in.


Like this comment
Posted by dcp123
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2018 at 3:15 pm

dcp123 is a registered user.

Why blame the teacher? To me the bigger problem is expecting one teacher to ensure the safety of 57 kids in a pool with no assistance. I'd focus the blame of the SRVUSD's policies that created the dangerous situation. There should have been lifeguards (plural) assisting the teacher. I'm also not at all sure that 57 kids in the pool at the same time is ever a good idea.


31 people like this
Posted by Betty
a resident of Danville
on Nov 6, 2018 at 9:41 pm

After Aaron Becker blew the whistle to end class he never looked back into the pool. So at that point it was only one student left in the pool. Not very hard to spot a single kid drowning. So SRVUSD should be accountable for Aaron Becker not spotting the kid going under. Aaron Becker is accountable for leaving a pool without a glance to see if everyone made it out. Am sure if he would have taken the life guard certification training which expired in March he would have been told to check the pool before leaving. Previous PE teachers at SRV high took roll before dismissing the class after swimming.


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