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$27 million settlement ends lawsuit over 13-year-old Californian student’s bullying death

$27 million settlement ends lawsuit over 13-year-old Californian student’s bullying death

Days before the fourth anniversary of the fatal beating of a middle school boy by bullies, the Moreno Valley school district has agreed to a $27 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by the boy’s family.

Diego Stolz, who was fatally beaten by two bullies at Landmark Middle School in Moreno Valley in 2019, is seen in a family photo. The Moreno Valley Unified School District has settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Stolz’s family for $27 million, which according to the family’s attorney, is the largest settlement for a bullying lawsuit in U.S. history. (Courtesy of Juana and Felipe Salcedo) 

The Moreno Valley Unified School District has agreed to the settlement with the family of former Landmark Middle School student Diego Stolz, 13, according to his family’s attorney.

“The family will forever be heartbroken by the death of Diego but they hope this case brings about change in school districts across the country,” Manhattan Beach attorney Dave Ring, who represented Diego’s family, is said in a Wednesday, Sept. 13, news release. “Schools need to realize that bullying can never be tolerated and that any complaints of bullying and assault must be taken seriously. Diego’s death was preventable if this school had simply prioritized an anti-bullying policy.”

According to Ring’s firm, this is the largest bullying settlement in United States history.

“I’ve never seen anything close to $27 million,” Ring said Wednesday.

In July, a New Jersey school district settled for $9.1 million with the family of a middle school girl who killed herself after months of relentless bullying. The family of Mallory Grossman, 12, said her school made no meaningful effort to prevent the bullying.

On Sept. 16, 2019, early in his eighth-grade year, Stolz was sucker-punched in an attack captured on video and shared on social media. His head hit a pillar and, after he fell to the ground, unconscious, his assailant and another boy continued punching him. Stolz never woke up and died days later in a hospital.

Stolz’s family alleged the school failed to act after they told Landmark Assistant Principal Kamilah O’Connor days before the attack that the boys were bullying Stolz. O’Connor, the family said, promised to suspend the two boys. Instead, they were still in school on the day of the attack.

The two boys who beat Stolz spent 47 days in custody after his death. They later “made admissions” — the juvenile court term for the equivalent of pleading guilty — to involuntary manslaughter and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury in November 2020. They were sentenced to probation, including therapy for anger management issues, impulsivity and a lack of empathy.

O’Connor no longer works for Moreno Valley Unified, but is a middle school principal in Dixon, near Sacramento.

Since Stolz’s death, Moreno Valley Unified has changed its bullying reporting system to make administrators more accountable for following through. The district also changed its training for assistant principals, who handle student discipline.

“We had a lot of discussions about changing their anti-bullying programs,” Ring said. “They didn’t wait for the lawsuit settlement for that. … (The lawsuit has) already brought about change.”

Stolz’s family — Juana and Felipe Salcedo, the aunt and uncle who raised himfiled a wrongful death lawsuit against the district in December 2020.

State law had to be changed to let the Salcedos sue.

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Assembly Bill 2445 was introduced by Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-San Bernardino, and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September 2020. Previously, only parents were allowed to sue on behalf of someone who died “due to the wrongful act or neglect of another.” But since he was 1 year old, Stolz and his two brothers had been raised by his maternal aunt and uncle, the Salcedos, after his mother died in 2007. After his father’s death in 2014, the pair were appointed his legal guardians.

With the passage of AB 2445, legal guardians now have standing to sue in cases involving the death of a minor whose death may have been caused by a wrongful or neglectful act, if their parents are already dead.

As part of the settlement, the Salcedos will work with Moreno Valley school officials to create a memorial to Stolz, according to Ring.

When completed, it will be the second memorial to a student who died due to campus violence at Landmark Middle School. Jerod Schroeder, 12, died Oct. 22, 1998, after an argument on a school basketball court escalated to a fight that led to Schroeder being punched in the head and his head then striking the blacktop. He died of a severed artery in his vertebrae.