Parents Blast ‘Going Away Party’ for Guiding Hands School as Inappropriate

EL DORADO HILLS -- Some parents are outraged an El Dorado Hills school for kids with special needs is holding a "going away party" after one of its own students died after being restrained by staff.

Guiding Hands was shut down by the state after the death of 13-year-old Max Benson.

"The fact that they’re going to throw a party to mourn a school closing, rather than to mourn the loss of a child," former Guiding Hands parent Melissa Lasater said.

Some parents believe the party is in poor taste.

Many like Benson family friend Karen Hirsch discovered the now shutdown school was planning the party after seeing a GoFundMe campaign put up by the owner's son.

"To pay for this party instead of supporting the family who lost their child at the hands of their school?" Hirsch said. "I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

The school's attorney issued a response to FOX40:

This gathering was requested by the Guiding Hands School’s (GHS) parents, students and staff with the purpose of providing some comradery and closure to the GHS community. The GoFundMe Account was set up as a voluntary fund to provide food for those who attend the gathering, many of whom are without a job or are from low-income families. Many of the staff, parents and students have been members of the GHS community for many, many years and have expressed their frustration in not having a voice in the school’s closure.  Out of respect for all those that have supported GHS over the years this gathering was to allow everyone to come together and share in one another’s company.

Over 25 years, GHS and its staff have offered caring, compassionate service. This gathering is to bring together those who have dedicated their lives to the education, safety and care of behaviorally challenged children with former students and parents who will miss the school.

We continue to grieve over the loss of a GHS member. Our hearts remain with his family.

"It's a last goodbye, I guess for a lot of us," parent Chad Hanes said.

Hanes' daughter attended Guiding Hands for years and always had a positive experience.

He said he plans to go to the party because he says it acts as a way for his daughter to transition away from the school, which is not always easy for teens with special needs.

"For her to be able to see this first hand and kind of get the point, 'OK, I'm not coming back here again.' That’s very helpful for her," Hanes said.

"I understand that the parents who had a good experience they lost something now that the school is closing," Hirsch said. "But the school is closing because the department of education revoked their certification because they restrained kids unlawfully and one of those kids died."

The Benson family's attorney is also calling the party inappropriate.

"I can't think of anything worse than what they've done," Seth Goldstein said. "This party is just another example of their lack of acknowledgement of the wrongfulness of their acts."

Goldstein says he hopes his clients don’t find out about the party. Hirsch says she knows how much it’ll hurt them.

"It's just like a slap in the face to Max's family. I mean, he was a real person and sometimes I think that gets lost in all of this so I hope people remember Max too," Hirsch said.

The man who launched the GoFundMe page says it would stop raising funds for the party.

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