Family of San Ramon Valley H.S. teen who drowned sues school district, teacher

The family of an East Bay teenager who drowned at San Ramon Valley High School has filed a lawsuit against the school district and a teacher, alleging negligence and willful misconduct.

Ben Curry, 15, drowned in a pool at San Ramon Valley High School during a fourth period physical education class on May 8. He was pulled from the water more than an hour later by the fifth period teacher and other students.

Andy Schwartz, attorney for the Curry family, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the San Ramon Valley Unified School District and P.E. teacher Aaron Becker. Schwartz said enhanced surveillance video appears to show Becker standing on a diving board above the deep end of the pool.

“It appears to us the teacher had a cell phone in his hand and was looking at his cell phone as he was supervising the children,” Schwartz said. “We’re not sure it’s a cell phone, but it sure looks like a cell phone.”

Schwartz said Becker had instructed students to tread water for three and half minutes and warned he would add time if students touched the ropes. Becker did add 30 seconds of time, and in that time, Schwartz said Curry was exhausted and went underwater, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claims Becker’s lifeguard certification was expired. He was supervising 57 students in the pool, including Curry.

“There’s not one expert in this field that I’ve had contact with that has heard of a ratio of 57 to 1. You have to remember this wasn’t the swim team or the water polo team. This was a P.E. class,” Schwartz said. “You can see the kids leave. You can see Mr. Becker leave and there was never roll taken.”

Elizabeth Graswich, spokeswoman for San Ramon Valley Unified School District released said the district continues its internal review on policies and procedures related to school pools. Since Curry’s death, the district has suspended the use of pools for all P.E. classes and now requires lifeguards be present any time pools are in use.

Part of a statement reads, “This event was and will remain a tragedy in our hearts and minds forever. The District sincerely apologizes to the Curry family and all community members. The District has been and will continue to be in contact with the Curry family attorney to address their legal claim.”

“The questions that they have still haven’t been answered,” Schwartz said. “They don’t know why this was allowed to happen. It’s unheard of that someone, 15 years old, would drown in a swim class.”

The family is also upset the school district didn’t shut down rumors that Curry committed suicide. The Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff Coroner’s Division ruled Curry’s death an accident. Danville Police found no signs of foul play.

Schwartz added that the Curry family remains devastated by the incident, but they wished to thank the fifth period teach who pulled their son from the water.

“They really want to thank Samantha Libby for trying to save their son,” Schwartz said. “She was the only one in that school who made an effort to save Ben. It was too late, but they are forever thankful to her for what she did for Ben.”