It's been almost a year since a 13-year-old special-needs student died at a private school in El Dorado Hills. Now three school staff members will be charged with involuntary manslaughter, according to prosecuting attorneys.
The El Dorado County District Attorney's office says it will file involuntary manslaughter charges Wednesday against Guiding Hands School, Inc., and the school’s co-owners: Executive Director and Site Administrator Cindy Keller, school Principal Staranne Meyers, as well as certified special education teacher Kimberly Wohlwend.
Joe Alexander, chief assistant district attorney for the county, says Wohlwend’s prone restraint of the boy last November 28 led to his death.
“In a prone restraint, the person being restrained would be face down and the person restraining them would be on top of them,” Alexander said. “You would control the person with the weight of your own body.”
He says the school and it’s owners are also responsible for making sure staff follow techniques that avoid harm to the person being restrained.
“By act or omission, they are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of holding a child in a prone restraint.” Alexander said.
Seth Goldstein, attorney for the boy's family, said they are “relieved” charges will be filed and that the employees and the school “will be held responsible.”
"This is a problem that is national in scope and probably even beyond that and they hope this will send a message to those people who want to apply such restraints to autistic children,” Goldstein said.
The three are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in El Dorado Superior Court.
The California Department of Education revoked the school's license in January as a result of the incident and cited unreasonable or unnecessary use of force for a behavioral problem.
CDE also listed the school’s failure to file an emergency report after an emergency action had caused the loss of consciousness and/or death of a student. The agency also said the school had failed to follow a student's education program or to develop preventative measures to make sure such an incident didn't happen again.
Attempts by CapRadio to reach the owner and employees of Guiding Hands School for comment have been unsuccessful.