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

Diego Stolz, 13, was beaten at Landmark Middle School in September 2019 and died days later

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

According to the attorney for former Landmark Middle School student Diego Stolz, the Moreno Valley Unified School District has reached an agreement with his family.

“The family will be forever heartbroken by Diego’s death, but they hope that this case will bring about change in school districts across the country,” Manhattan Beach attorney Dave Ring, who represented Diego’s family, said in a news release on Wednesday, Sept. 13. “Schools must understand that bullying will not be tolerated and that any reports of bullying or assault must be taken seriously.” Diego’s death could have been avoided if this school had prioritized an anti-bullying policy.”

This is the largest bullying settlement in US history, according to Ring’s firm.

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

In July, a New Jersey school district reached a $9.1 million settlement with the family of a middle school girl who committed suicide after months of bullying. Mallory Grossman’s family claimed that her school made no significant effort to prevent bullying.

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

Stolz’s family claimed the school failed to act after they told Landmark Assistant Principal Kamilah O’Connor about the bullying days before the attack. According to the family, O’Connor promised to suspend the two boys. On the day of the attack, they were still in school.

Following Stolz’s death, the two boys who beat him were detained for 47 days. In November 2020, they “made admissions” — the juvenile court term for pleading guilty — to involuntary manslaughter and assault with force likely to cause great bodily harm. They were sentenced to probation, which included anger management therapy, impulsivity, and a lack of empathy.

O’Connor now works as a middle school principal in Dixon, near Sacramento, rather than for Moreno Valley Unified.

Moreno Valley Unified has changed its bullying reporting system since Stolz’s death to hold administrators more accountable for following through. The district also altered the training for assistant principals, who are in charge of student discipline.

“We had a lot of discussions about changing their anti-bullying programs,” said Ring. “They didn’t wait for the lawsuit to be settled before doing that.” … (The lawsuit) has already resulted in change.”

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

To allow the Salcedos to sue, state law had to be changed.

If their parents are already deceased, 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, thanks to the passage of AB 2445.

According to Ring, as part of the settlement, the Salcedos will collaborate with Moreno Valley school officials to create a memorial to Stolz.

When finished, it will be Landmark Middle School’s second memorial to a student who died as a result of campus violence. Jerod Schroeder, 12, died on October 22, 1998, after an argument on a school basketball court turned into a fight, which resulted in Schroeder being punched in the head and his head striking the blacktop. He died as a result of a severed artery in his vertebrae.

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