‘Insensitive’: School tied to death of teen with autism faces backlash for throwing a party

A GoFundMe set up for the school said a party would  celebrate the “positive closure.” (Photo: YouTube/KCRA News)

In November, a 13-year-old student with severe autism, Max Benson, died following an incident at Guiding Hands School in El Dorado, Calif. Guiding Hands is now throwing a “going away party” after officially closing its doors in January — and people are reminding those attending to think of Max.

Everyone who truly spent time at Guiding Hands School knows what a loving, beneficial place it was. Let’s leave it with that same energy!” a GoFundMe for the party read. It added that any past students, parents, teachers or friends who wanted to celebrate the “positive closure” were invited to the Feb. 23 shindig. 

Any money raised will go toward “entertainment, refreshments and clean-up for our all-day going away party after having been in business for 26 years and making a positive impact on the lives of special needs students,” according to the page. The fundraiser had raised just over $1,000 as of Monday morning and said “anyone contributing negativity” at the event would be asked to leave.

Last month, the school announced that it would retire its Nonpublic School Certification. The California Department of Education initially revoked Guiding Hands’ certification after Benson’s death, but a Sacramento Superior Court judge put the decision on hold while the state and the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office completed an investigation.

Guiding Hands ultimately decided to close anyway. The school said in a statement to CBS Sacramento, however, that it categorically denies allegations that staff improperly used an emergency restraint on Benson that resulted in his death. 

“The decision to surrender our certification is in the best interest of and for the benefit of our students, their parents and our staff,” the statement read. 

But the controversy continued when people saw that the school was raising money for its party” — which some critics have slammed as “insensitive” and “demonic.”



Max is who you should be thinking of right now,” one person commented on the GoFundMe page, before its comment section was suspended. We tried being pragmatic and seeing both sides — then you decided to throw yourselves a little party to celebrate the sale and your ‘positive closure’ … there are no publicly appropriate words for how disturbed I am with this right now.”

Benson’s teacher uploaded a black-and-white photo of the boy, saying her comments kept being deleted. And another person commented, I see Guiding Hands is still collecting money for its party. Please remember Max Benson while you’re at it.”

Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to the GoFundMe organizer for comment.

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