Programs are in place to deter bullying and ensure students are protected in the Moreno Valley Unified School District, officials said Tuesday, in response to word that a lawsuit against the district will proceed over the death of a 13-year-old boy who suffered at the hands of bullies.
"The district has taken several steps in the last year at all schools to address and prevent bullying and violence, such as increasing awareness of resources and launching the 'Hearts YOUnited' kindness campaign,'' MVUSD spokeswoman Anahi Velasco told City News Service.
"The district is focused on preventing school violence while also providing assistance and education to students,'' she said. "The safety and wellness of our students and staff continue to remain a top priority,'' she said.
According to Velasco, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office and a nonprofit are working collaboratively within the district to provide mentorship and other programs geared to at-risk youth.
On Monday, attorneys for Felipe and Juana Salcedo, the aunt and uncle of Diego Stolz, announced that a civil suit originally filed against MVUSD last October had been re-filed after legislation was approved giving legal guardians standing in civil claims involving a minor whose death may have stemmed from a wrongful or negligent act.
Previously, only the natural parents or siblings could make a claim. Assembly Bill 2445 revised the process. Diego's parents died years ago.
"This lawsuit will prove that the school district ignored serious bullying and assaults on its campuses for many years,'' attorney David Ring alleged. "Diego's death was totally preventable if real anti-bullying policies had been put in place."
The re-filed suit is in Los Angeles County Superior Court. A damage award has not been specified, but Ring suggested the plaintiffs could seek as much as $100 million.
"Diego will not be forgotten, and the district certainly understands that this is a difficult time for Diego's family,'' Velasco said. "The district respects the family's right to pursue a legal action.''
According to Ring, Diego was consistently bullied by two to four boys, starting while he was in seventh grade at Landmark Middle School. Ring could not cite the number of bullying incidents but said the mistreatment began with verbal insults and taking of the victim's belongings.
When Diego entered eighth grade in August 2019, the abuse escalated, Ring said. He had no explanation for the victimization, observing that at one point, the boys were on good terms with Diego.
He said Diego's aunt filed "multiple complaints'' at Landmark in the 2018-19 academic year and in the first month of the 2019-20 school year, but her concerns allegedly fell on deaf ears.
The harassment came to a head on Sept. 12, 2019, when one of the boys cornered and punched Diego in the chest, threatening to inflict further physical harm, at which point the youth went to a science teacher and revealed what he had endured, Ring said.
"This teacher saw his emotional state and knew there was something wrong, but there was nothing done,'' the attorney alleged, pointing specifically to alleged inaction by the campus' vice principal, Kamilah O'Connor.
That afternoon, Diego told his aunt about the assault, and she asked her adult daughter, Jazmin Salcedo, to address the matter with administrators, according to Ring.
His court filing last year alleges that Salcedo, Diego and O'Connor met for 20 minutes, and "after the meeting, O'Connor told Jazmin that she had learned the names of the bullies involved and she would suspend them for three days, starting Monday, Sept. 16. She also said their class schedules would be changed so that they would not be in Diego's class anymore.''
When the victim returned to school the following week, the two assailants who had hounded him the prior week caught him in front of a building during lunch recess, according to Ring.
He referred to widely circulated mobile phone video footage that shows one boy standing in Diego's face, while the victim stands limply, then backing up and punching him in the mouth. The second assailant then blindsides Diego with another punch, causing him to fall and strike his head on a concrete pillar.
He suffered major trauma and was pronounced brain dead and taken off life support a week later.
The two boys allegedly involved in the assault are facing manslaughter charges in Riverside Juvenile Dependency Court. Neither defendant has been identified because they are underage.