A $27 million settlement has been reached with the family of Diego Stolz, a California eighth-grader who died in 2019 after he was bullied and assaulted by two fellow classmates during a brutal attack at school.
The settlement from the Moreno Valley Unified School District is the largest-ever paid out for school bullying, according to attorneys for the boy’s guardians Juana and Felipe Salcedo. The Salcedos began caring for Stolz after his biological parents died; Stolz was just 13 when he died after the incident at Landmark Middle School in Moreno Valley.
David Ring, one attorney representing Stolz’s family, said in a statement Thursday that Diego’s death was particularly tragic because of how easily preventable it was and that if the school “had simply prioritized anti-bullying policy” before this fateful episode, an entirely different outcome would have been possible.
“This lawsuit puts schools on notice to find ways to effectively deal with bullying and to enact real anti-bullying policies. Although his family’s grief can never be taken away, we believe real change will come and there will be a renewed focus on anti-bullying programs across the nation,” another family attorney Neil Gehlawat said Thursday.
Stolz suffered traumatic brain injury and died in the hospital nine days after two students attacked him. When one of his classmates struck him, Stolz hit the pavement near the middle school’s parking lot. After he smacked his head on the ground and a nearby pillar, a student struck Stolz in the face. In graphic video evidence shared by the family’s attorneys, Stolz appears to stand still as a student initiates the assault. His arms are down at his sides when he is struck and as he stumbles back, he falls and hits his head. The video shows Stolz’s leg flying up above his head after he is hit again while lying on the ground.
The Salcedos said they lodged a number of complaints with Landmark Middle School about students bullying Stolz before the final attack that killed him. After Diego was sucker-punched by a student, he went to a teacher for help. That teacher, the family’s attorney said, told Landmark’s assistant principal and the assistant principal said security footage would be reviewed to determine who hit Stolz.
When nothing came of that, a family member went to the school to inform the assistant principal that they knew who hit Stolz. A promise was allegedly made to suspend the student and to move Stolz out of classes he shared with the alleged offender, or at least moved to a different section of the shared classrooms.
But none of that ever happened, according to the Salcedos.
The boys who assaulted Stolz before his death were 14 years old at the time and they were held in juvenile custody for several weeks after admitting to assault with force likely to great bodily injury and involuntary manslaughter, local ABC affiliate KABC reported in 2021. The boys were ordered to serve 150 hours of community service as well as undergo behavioral programs. Prosecutors wanted more time but the judge handling the case would not give it, arguing more time in jail would be less rehabilitative for the boys. Defense attorneys for the boys at the same said the teens were deeply remorseful.
One year after Stolz’s death, the California Assembly passed legislation that clarified the rights held by guardians of children with deceased parents who are harmed in the course of wrongful or negligent acts.
According to NBC News, the Moreno Valley Unified School District issued a letter to parents upon news of the massive settlement saying it had implemented new anti-bullying policies including a “centralized online bullying form” as well as posters telling students to report bullying.
A school district spokesperson did not immediately return request for comment Friday.
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Family of boy dead after school assault receives $27 million
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