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Family of bullied teen who died after student punched him reaches historic $27 million settlement, lawyers say

Diego Stolz's family said they made several complaints that he was being bullied. Their attorneys say it is the largest school bullying settlement in U.S. history.
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The family of a 13-year-old boy who died after two of his classmates attacked him at lunch will receive a $27 million settlement from a Southern California school district, according to the family's attorneys, who said it is the largest school bullying settlement in U.S. history.

Juana and Felipe Salcedo, the guardians of Diego Stolz, sued the Moreno Valley Unified School District after he died in September 2019, claiming officials ignored several complaints they made in 2018 and 2019 to administrators at Landmark Middle School that Diego was being bullied. They became his guardians after both of his parents died.

The case was settled Wednesday.

"This lawsuit has put schools on notice to find ways to effectively deal with bullying and to enact real anti-bullying policies," attorney Neil Gehlawat said in a statement. "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."

A district spokesperson had no comment for the media.

Diego Stoltz.
Diego Stolz.Courtesy Taylor & Ring

Diego died nine days after a student sucker-punched him at lunch, attorneys Gehlawat and Dave Ring said in a news release. He fell and hit his head on a concrete pillar. Another student punched him in the face while he was on the ground, they said.

Cellphone video released by the attorneys showed Diego standing with his hands at his side. The family's attorneys said that was a "clear indication that he did not want to fight, and would not escalate the situation." A boy is seen in the video swinging at Diego. A second boy also swings and punches him in the head, causing him to fall. The first boy then rushes toward Diego and hits him again, the video shows.

Diego was rushed to a hospital for a traumatic brain injury and placed on life support, the attorneys said. He never regained consciousness, and he died Sept. 25, 2019.

The two teenagers involved, who were 14 at the time, entered the equivalent of guilty pleas in juvenile court to involuntary manslaughter and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, The Associated Press reported. They spent 47 days in juvenile custody and were ordered to undergo anger management therapy.

Diego’s guardians say the fatal encounter wasn't the first time he had been bullied. On Sept. 12, 2019, he went to his science teacher for help after he was sucker-punched in the head, the news release says.

"The teacher informed the Assistant Principal that day; she claimed she would review the security footage to find the perpetrators, but she did not," the family's attorneys said.

The next day, the Salcedos' adult daughter went with Diego to speak with the assistant principal. The assistant principal told her that she knew who the alleged bullies were and that the students would be suspended, according to the news release. The assistant principal also said she would switch around class schedules so Diego would not have classes with the bullies, but she never did, the attorneys said.

The family alleged in the lawsuit that the district has "a long history" of failing to protect students who are being bullied. They also said the district failed to enact effective safety procedures to protect the students.

School district Superintendent Martinrex Kedziora said in a letter to parents Wednesday that the district has made several changes regarding anti-bullying since Diego's death. Some of the changes include "a district-wide centralized online bullying form" and classroom posters that define bullying and how to report bullying, Kedziora said.

"On behalf of the Moreno Valley Unified School District Board of Education, we want you to know that we truly care about each and every student and staff member in our district. The news of Diego’s death was not something we took lightly. The safety and well-being of our students will remain our top priority," Kedziora continued.

The family will "forever be heartbroken" by Diego’s death but hopes his story "brings about change in school districts across the country," their attorney said.