Editorial: Remember Ben Curry | News | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


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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92 people like this
Posted by Heartbroken mom
a resident of Alamo
on May 2, 2019 at 3:50 pm

Very well written article. We all must ask ourselves what if this was my child? So many people of all ages in this community have been impacted by Ben’s tragic death. Ben had just turned 15-years old. Knowing if Becker would have just lended Ben a hand and pulled the exhausted young teenager out of the pool he’d still be here today. If only Becker checked the perimeter of the pool and didn’t ignore Ben’s towel and cell phone on the bleachers. If only Becker didn’t have to have a football mentality and didn’t tack on extra minutes of treading water. If only Becker showed some remorse for his negligence. Ben would be here!!!! Ben should be here.

9 people like this
Posted by Mike C.
a resident of Alamo
on May 2, 2019 at 4:54 pm

What a tragedy. To me, this editorial is inflammatory, however. Your interpretation of the California Public Records Act is simplistic and wrong. If all the records were released tomorrow the teachers union would immediately sue the District (and win) for releasing information about a personnel investigation where the teacher doesn't seem to have committed any crime. Maybe he should be disciplined or even fired for violating school policies but there isn't enough information to make that judgment conclusively. That's what our criminal, and more appropriately, the civil legal system is for. That process is currently playing out. The district would be crazy to release records while the lawsuit is still working its way through the system. No company or individual would want their legal discussions and strategy being released to the attorney's suing them. It would be derelict on their part.

In the absence of information, otherwise (likely) highly educated people are filling in the blanks with speculation and gossip. Guess what - you don't have a right to every bit of information in a litigious matter like this. The family's attorney is going to say whatever makes the district and teacher look most culpable and by extension what gets him and his client the most money. I want the family to receive every dime possible if a judge or jury decides they are entitled to it. What I've read makes it seem like they deserve compensatory damages but again just because it's in the media or on the internet doesn't mean it is accurate. I also don't want millions of my tax dollars from an already underfunded district paid out in a lawsuit if the facts don't support it. Accidents happen all the time and often there is no one to blame. It's a tragic - ACCIDENT. When we let the internet mob guide decisions based on less than the full facts no one wins (except maybe the lawyers).

81 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Diablo
on May 2, 2019 at 10:37 pm

This editorial is in pursuit of the truth and is the most noble effort a newspaper can undertake. The police report is not protected by on going civil litigation from public records request.

Ignorance is not bliss and everyone should think about a 15 year old boy being abandoned in a swimming pool. It does make some in Danville uneasy with the fact that a teacher is responsible for the death of a student. Two kids drowned in the school year 2017-2018 one was rescued and with CPR brought back to life by a PE teacher who treated his responsibility like the kids lives depended on him. Ben Curry’s fate was sealed by Aaron Becker who believed his lunch and cell phone was more important then Ben Curry’s life. Unlike the drowning in Texas with a late rescue measured in minutes Ben was abandoned in the pool for over 1 hour.

SRVUSD pays an insurance premium of $1.9 million per year of our tax dollars because of their past history of keeping our kids safe. The majority of lawsuits with substantial payouts are because of school administrators not following up on complaints about teachers. Aaron Becker is just another teacher in a list which SRVUSD protects at the expense of our children.

74 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Danville
on May 3, 2019 at 12:20 am

Well said parent. Aaron Becker shouldn't be working any more. He failed to do his job, which was to protect the students, to make sure that when they he left the pool no kids were left behind. Ben went under water in the last 2 minutes of class, while Becker was looking at his phone, and then he decided to leave without even making sure everyone was out. He has never apologized and still believe he didn't have anything to do with Ben's death, which is disgusting. How can this guy continue to show up at the school like nothing happened, and it is sad that the school has protected him since day one just to have a football coach. I am sorry but I don't want this guy near my kids, obviously he has shown that he has nothing good or values to teach anyone. He had a kid right after Ben passed away, I wonder what he would think if because of a negligent teacher his son passed away.

13 people like this
Posted by mrszalewski2
a resident of Danville
on May 3, 2019 at 6:17 am

mrszalewski2 is a registered user.

Again, well written article. The community needs to continue to support the Curry Family and empathize with their loss. There will always be the debate of accident vs negligence. It will be up to a judge and jury to decide. As parents, we need to ensure Ben’s memory lives on and make sure this never happens to another child.

68 people like this
Posted by Lincoln
a resident of Danville
on May 3, 2019 at 3:58 pm

Lincoln is a registered user.

Mike C. -- You are mistaken in two respects: First, the newspaper is seeking only the police report, not school personnel records. Second, the public has a right to know the facts surrounding Ben's death (as well as whether the police investigation was performed properly), independent of the outcome of criminal prosecution decisions and the civil lawsuit by the Curry family. There is strong interest by the public in knowing if its elected officials (the school board) and the teachers hired by the board are adequately performing their jobs, including keeping their children safe. Information like that is crucial to voters when deciding who they will elect to the school board. So, the County Sheriff's office (which supplies the police force for Danville) should stop playing CYA games and release the report to the newspaper and the public.

26 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Diablo
on May 5, 2019 at 9:19 am

My previous comment is in error the current insurance premium for 2019 is not $1.9 million it is $2.2 million a 15.8% increase.
SRVUSD shame on you for not protecting our children and tax dollars. The teacher that rescued the girl at Cal High (Nov 2017) warned a child would drown and he would tell the truth that it is a financial decision to allow large PE class size in the district. 57-61 students in PE classes at SRV High. SRVUSD's financial decision contributed to Ben's death.

Rick Schmitt needs to be fired he gambled with our children's lives to save money which resulted in the community losing a child and tax dollars. How do you make a bet like that and then not be accountable for the result?

16 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Danville
on May 5, 2019 at 7:26 pm

Well said , Parent. Why on earth were safety measures not put into place after the Cal High incident , where a student drowned but was saved. That teacher brought this safety issue up to the school board but it fell on deaf ears. All Rick Schmitt had to do was put safety measures into place immediately before allowing swimming to continue in this District. I do agree , Rick Schmitt and the entire school board needs to go. Becker could have checked the perimeter upon leaving that day. How he didn’t notice Ben’s towel , cell phone and shoes is concerning on his mental state to watch children in a pool. However, Rick Schmitt allowing this to continue is mind boggling. One teacher in charge of 57 students that are 14 and 15 years old and have varying abilities in the water ?? I will never understand. It is absolutely tragic and will never be forgotten on how the ball was dropped and Ben Curry and his family wee failed by so many adults in charge.

7 people like this
Posted by WhoIsRunningForSchoolBoard
a resident of Danville
on May 6, 2019 at 7:12 pm

It's time to put our kids first.

10 people like this
Posted by VoteThemOut
a resident of Blackhawk
on May 6, 2019 at 7:17 pm

The elected Board of Education members have terms coming up! We can't point the finger at the teacher, Arron Becker. We must hold our elected officials accountable for not doing anything when they were first warned by the Cal High PE teacher prior to Ben Curry's death at a public school board meeting (watch the meetings- they are all posted online!).

Serve the children of this school district by voting them out and give justice to Ben Curry for their inaction.

Rachel Hurd, President term up, 2022
Greg Marvel, Vice President *term up, 2020
Mark Jewett, Clerk term up, 2020
Susanna Ordway, Member -APPOINTED BY the BOE, instead of waiting for the election. term up, 2022
Ken Mintz, Member term up, 2022

53 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2019 at 7:44 am

Please explain how Aaron Becker walks away from a drowning 15 year old boy after informing the class they would be punished if they touched the side does not share in the responsibility for Ben Curry's death?

54 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Danville
on May 7, 2019 at 10:34 am

Tim, he just didn't care, and still doesn't care, he is still saying that he didn't have anything to do with Ben's death, he also is saying that the school told him since day one that he didn't have to worry about anything, even though Ben died because of his negligence and they had the video showing that Becker was looking at his phone when Ben went under water. I think they wanted everybody to believe that the reason he died is because Ben had a SMALL amount of marijuana on his system, but I am sorry, even if he was high as a mountain, he would be alive if Becker had done his job and had pulled him out of the water on time. Also, it is interesting that a teacher got suspended a couple weeks ago because he touched a student when he was telling him to leave the room for being disrespectful, but Becker didn't even get suspended one day for letting a kid die. I guess football is more important for the school than our kids.

43 people like this
Posted by DanvilleDad
a resident of Danville
on May 7, 2019 at 11:25 pm

I'm not one that believes in law suits, but I do in this case. I hope the Curry family sue, have all the board of education and superintendent testify as well as Becker. Then I hope the go after them in a civil case. Who shows up the next day of work after a kid just died in his class? Who goes on to work for NextGen Sports and make bank over his football title at SRVHS with LITTLE KIDS? This is why so many people are pulling kids out and putting them in private, charter and leaving the area-- the schools are no longer the anchor because of this poor leadership. If this happened, imagine the rest of things they have been busy covering up. We may need to take some tours this summer of private schools too.

5 people like this
Posted by Scott
a resident of Danville
on May 8, 2019 at 7:56 am

Becker dropped the (foot) ball.

47 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Diablo
on May 8, 2019 at 8:17 am

Aaron Becker is Site Director Head Football Coach at Next Level flag football. Talk about a conflict of interest the team coaches are the football players from his team. Next level was at one time a non-profit but now it is all about the money. Think of that team meeting where Aaron Becker informs the team that he needs coaches for Next Level flag football. Every player knows that it is just another pay to play requirement to add to the growing list.

SRVUSD was again rated a top school district. Missing from the evaluation was the check box "Was your school district responsible for a death of a child". The money they saved by having large PE classes and no life guards I am sure was spent to insure a high rating at the cost of Ben's life.

11 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Danville
on May 8, 2019 at 8:33 am

The fact that Aaron Becker is responsible for a kid's death is not on his records. The school has been covering his back all this time.The HR guy told him from the beginning he was fine, but what we expect from this HR guy, if he was involved and supporting a teacher on his previous job, that was abusing a child and why do we have those kind of people on our district.

44 people like this
Posted by Alamomom3
a resident of Alamo
on May 8, 2019 at 9:44 am

I feel bad because a lot of times with having younger kids this all isn’t on my radar. A quick Google search caught me up. It’s not only a tragedy that a child has died, it’s a tragedy that nothing has happened because of it. I’m sitting her crying thinking about this mess. Who are these school board leaders?! What if this were their child?! How can you sleep at night knowing this teacher is still here in this district? Thanks for the heads up about that flag football organization that Mr. Becker is involved with. What a poor choice. The leaders at this school district empowers this man and helped him continue to get side jobs because of his role and the fact nothing remains on his record. Does anyone know how to lawyer up against these people as a community? I don’t care how long they’ve been in their roles and who they know- it’s time for cleaning house, top down.

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