The parents of a boy who drowned May 5 during a high school swimming class are suing the school for negligence, claiming the teacher in charge of the class was preoccupied with his cellphone.
According to The Mercury News, 15-year-old Benjamin Curry was struggling to tread water during a swimming class at San Ramon Valley High. He eventually sank below the surface and drowned.
Danville teen’s drowning death ruled an accident by coroner. 15 yr old Benjamin Curry drowned during swim class at San Ramon Valley High School last month. Autopsy report says no indication he intended to drown himself. pic.twitter.com/p1pFdcOv9m— Jodi Hernandez (@JodiHernandezTV) June 6, 2018
Enhanced surveillance footage showed the 57 students in Ben’s fourth-period physical education class treading water for close to four minutes, while the teacher looked at his phone while standing on a diving board just 15 feet away.
“I’ve learned from reviewing the video and having it enhanced that it appears that the instructor was looking at his cellphone while standing on a diving board, when he should’ve been supervising the children,” said Andy Schwartz, an attorney for the Curry family. “If he was on his phone he probably was distracted. It’s one of those unanswered questions that the Currys would like to have answered.”
Benjamin’s parents, Karen and Thomas Curry, are now suing the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, as well as teacher Aaron Becker, who also serves as San Ramon Valley's varsity football coach, alleging negligence and willful misconduct over the drowning.
Spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich said the district is investigating the incident and has suspended use of the pools for all physical education classes. “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,” Graswich said Tuesday. “There are no words to describe the collective sorrow following the loss of Ben. The district has been and will continue to be in contact with the Curry family attorney to address their legal claim.”
The Mercury News reported that Benjamin and the rest of the class were told to tread water for three minutes. Becker reportedly warned the students that if they touched a lane line, he would extend the time, which he did by 30 seconds. That was just enough time for Benjamin to become exhausted and slip beneath the surface, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that Becker did not have the recommended water safety training and that his lifeguard certification lapsed two months earlier. There were no lifeguards at the pool to assist him, and the district had no rules, regulations or procedures in place to guide him in his instruction of the class, the lawsuit alleged.
Benjamin’s body wasn’t discovered until after lunch period had ended and students in the fifth-period PE class entered the pool. A different teacher taught that class.
In October, according to the DanvilleSanRamon.com, Benjamin’s older sister Katrina Curry addressed the school board: “The pain of losing Ben has been indescribable, but these past months, knowing his death had been preventable, have been excruciating. Ben drowned in PE class in front of Aaron Becker and he was left at the bottom of the pool for over an hour. … Becker has been allowed to remain responsible for children’s lives while he is still employed and actively teaching PE at SRVHS."
There was speculation among the community that Benjamin committed suicide, a rumor that the Curry family claims SRVHS officials allowed to persist, but school superintendent Rick Schmitt dismissed the rumor in a statement. “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,” Schmitt told The Mercury News.