EL DORADO COUNTY (CBS13) — The three women charged in 13-year-old Max Benson’s death appeared in court Wednesday.

All of the defendants entered not guilty pleas. Max, who had autism, died last year after being physically restrained at Guiding Hands School.

Former Guiding Hands Executive Director Cindy Keller, Principal Staranne Myers, and teacher Kimberly Wohlwend.

Former Guiding Hands Executive Director Cindy Keller, Principal Staranne Myers, and teacher Kimberly Wohlwend are all charged with involuntary manslaughter. The judge ordered they cannot teach or work with children.

The corporation that owned the Guiding Hands School is also facing a manslaughter charge.

Guiding Hands is now closed, but the owners and former employees now face what could be a lengthy battle in court.

READ: Family, Friends Seeking Justice 1 Year After Death Of 13-Year-Old With Autism

As the three defendants walked into court Wednesday, all looked away from the media, ignoring questions and cameras.

Max’s parents and family walked out of the courthouse holding hands. It’s been a year since they lost their son. The family declined to speak but referred CBS13 to their family attorney, Seth Goldstein. He says the way Max died is more common than you would think, going as far as to say it’s becoming an “epidemic” in schools.

Teacher Kimberly Wohlwend was identified as the person who restrained Max last year. Up until this week, she was still teaching at another local school.

The state Department of Education determined nearly a year ago that the restraints used prior to Max’s death violated state law. But Wohlwend, who is now charged with involuntary manslaughter, is still credentialed by a different state agency and has been legally allowed to continue teaching special education.

Wohlwend’s special education and elementary teaching credentials do not expire for more than a year, and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing shows no record of action against her.

READ: Candlelight Vigil Being Held Sunday For Max Benson

The agency says they cannot automatically revoke a teacher’s credentials without an investigation unless the teacher is convicted of certain crimes, is a sex offender, or found to be insane by a court. They say it’s up to the school districts to keep credentialed teachers out of the classroom based on behavior that is under investigation.

As of Wednesday, Wohlwend is still employed as a special education teacher in the Pollock Pines School District. In court, Wohlwend’s attorney said she stopped teaching at Sierra Ridge Middle School two days ago.

The middle school released a statement saying, in part, that they can’t comment on an employee facing criminal charges, but said student safety is their primary concern.

CBS13 asked the Pollock Pines superintendent and the school board about their hiring practices and how they background check teachers but did not hear back in time for publication Wednesday.

The teacher credentialing commission cannot confirm or deny whether it is investigating Wohlwend until the investigation is complete.

Comments (3)
  1. alohacjm says:

    Show a picture of Max as he looked at 13. The picture released is meant to draw pity for a little boy. Max was not little last year and that might show why some restraint was needed. The law changed on the maneuver used in January, 2019 which was two months after it was used at Guiding Hands. I’m not saying it was justified but it was not illegal last November and Max didn’t look like this picture. He was very overweight and that would be much harder to handle in an autistic behavior situation.

  2. Dee Den says:

    Alohacjm, your response is vile. You are ignorant. There was nothing reasonable about what these adults did to this 13 year old child. It wasn’t a “maneuver”. Anyone who deals with these situations and has training knows not to do this. Your ridiculous attempt at justifying the horrible way Max was treated is disgusting. Trying to shame a dead child for his weight and make excuses for these people is outrageous. These 3 held him down for 1 hour and 45 minutes in a prone position. They would not let him get up even when he asked. He peed on himself and vomited. They continued to hold him down in a prone position. They took him down to the ground and did this as a ridiculous over response to a spitting incident. They didn’t call for paramedics for a half an hour after he lost conciousness.

  3. Dave Altier says:

    The Internet Archive shows that this Guiding Hands School in California was an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) institution. Positive Behavioral Supports is the version of ABA that’s not supposed to punish. Remember. Never believe what at ABAer claims is true. Always judge them by their actions.

    They said, “”A full-time Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) collaborates with teachers to develop positive behavioral supports. Our school uses both group classroom and individual reward systems for learning appropriate social behaviors. All staff are trained in positive behavioral techniques to ensure consistent behavior within all school environments and among staff. School-wide behavioral expectations promote student success in our academic environment.”


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