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.