On Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, Stolz, 13, was an eighth grader at Landmark Middle School. The Friday before, Stolz’s family said he and an adult cousin went to Assistant Principal Kamilah O’Connor to report a bullying incident the day before, which had been reported by a teacher and allegedly captured on video. According to Stolz’s family, O’Connor told him the two boys’ schedules would be changed so they wouldn’t share classes with him and they would be suspended and not on campus Monday.
Instead, on Monday, they were still there. In an incident caught on video and shared on social media, Stolz was sucker-punched. His head struck a pillar and he fell to the ground, unconscious. His two assailants continued punching him. Stolz died eight days later and never regained consciousness.
Since Stolz’s death, the Moreno Valley Unified School District has replaced Landmark’s administrators. Other changes include an intervention team to ensure complaints are handled in a timely fashion and communication with families whose children report bullying. The district also stepped up training for assistant principals, who handle student discipline, and encouraged them to ask for help when needed.
The two boys who attacked Stolz have been charged with assault and voluntary manslaughter. Their next court date is Wednesday, Sept. 23. A plea deal may soon follow.
“I think we’ve worked out a disposition in this matter that is fair to everyone involved and will have a significant impact on preventing tragedies like this one in the future,” said Riverside attorney David Wohl, who represents one of the two accused assailants.
In addition to the criminal case, Stolz’s family has sued the families of both boys and and the school district.
“They want the district to enact and enforce some real stringent anti-bullying policies,” said Manhattan Beach attorney David Ring, who represents Stolz’s family. “The ones that were in place were so simplistic, barely enforced and were basically meaningless.”
The family believes the district hasn’t taken responsibility for creating a climate where the kind of violence that claimed Stolz’s life could take place.
“This was absolutely, 100% preventable by the school district if they had just done their job,” Ring said. “They had crystal clear information and they had it on video. The kid comes up behind him, punches him in the head, and Diego does all the right things. He reports it, goes to a teacher, is told the kids will be suspended and won’t come back to school. That was on Friday and Monday he comes back and is killed.”
The family wants “significant changes” at Moreno Valley Unified schools, he said. He pointed to the 1998 death of another Landmark student as proof the district has a decades-old problem in not taking campus violence seriously.
“I think there’s a culture at Moreno Valley that just did not make this a priority,” Ring said. “They just shrug their shoulders and say ‘Yeah, it’s going to happen.’”
According to Moreno Valley Unified spokeswoman Anahi Velasco, former principal Scott Walker is now a coordinator at the Professional Development and Digital Learning Department at the district office. O’Connor no longer works for the district, though officials would not say whether she was fired or quit, citing employee confidentiality. Former Assistant Principal Pedro Gutierrez is a teacher at the district’s March Mountain High School. All three are named in the lawsuit.
Rafael Garcia, who was installed as interim principal in October 2019 is now the official principal.
At its Tuesday, Sept. 8, meeting, the Moreno Valley school board signed a memorandum of understanding with SAFE Family Justice Centers and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office for anti-bullying and mental health programs.
“They’re going to do it for three years in the district and measure what they accomplish, at no cost to the district,” Superintendent Martinrex Kedziora said. “This is going to be more pro-active than reactive.”
Preventing bullying is different during the coronavirus pandemic. Principals and counselors are monitoring distance learning for bullying.
“In the era of COVID and virtual learning, we had to educate our students on the dangers of cyberbullying,” Garcia said. “And not only our students, but our staff and our teachers.”
Even before the pandemic, the district also made the bullying self-reporting link prominent on students’ Chromebooks, which are now their primary learning tools.
“We can’t just sit back and react and respond to things,” Garcia said.
The district’s efforts to take bullying more seriously may be paying off. In August, Canyon Springs High School’s Anti-Bullying Club was recognized as the HERO Peer Club of the Year by the Riverside Medical Clinic Charitable Foundation’s Anti-Bullying Institute.