Calls for Change after El Dorado Hills Student’s Death

SACRAMENTO -- A 13-year-old boy with autism died after he was restrained by school staff, and many hope changes can be made to prevent a death like this from happening again.

“(He was) a sweet young boy who was on the autism spectrum and had some behavioral issues, but was not a violent individual,” Dr. Jennie Singer, a friend of the boy’s family, told FOX40.

Singer is a criminal justice professor at Sacramento State and a licensed psychologist.

Her son, Leo, was friends with the boy who died last week after being restrained by staff at Guiding Hands School in El Dorado Hills. The school says the boy was having a “violent outburst.”

“He loved nature, he loved dogs and he loved his very wonderful family, who adored him,” Singer said.

She tells us the teen was bused to Guiding Hands all the way from Davis after the school was recommended to his parents.

“The family didn’t have options and was told, ‘This is where your son needs to go to school,’” she said.

Several states have banned the act of restraining students, and Singer believes laws need to change in California.

“There’s other ways to deal with violent behaviors or misbehavior outbursts than restraint,” Singer said.

In fact, Governor Brown signed a bill in October limiting – but not outright banning -- restraint and seclusions in schools.

“It does not ban it, it establishes a floor of minimal protections that we believe are minimally necessary to try and safe guard children,” Leslie Morrison, director of external relations at Disability Rights California, told FOX40.

Disability Rights California has investigated restraining cases in the past. They say restraints should only be used as a last resort and only by trained personnel.

“So the first thing we look at is whether or not the child’s behavior posed an imminent risk of harm, that would be the threshold standard by which restraint should be used,” Morrison said. “We look to see whether the child’s behavior at the time of the restraint really met that high threshold.”

Meanwhile, Singer says the teen’s death has been tough on her son Leo and she knows many other classmates and friends are struggling with the loss as well.