The parents of the boy killed on the Aptos High campus took the first legal step Tuesday that is often a precursor to a lawsuit — filing a claim.
The parents of the 17-year-old stabbed to death on the Aptos High School campus filed a claim against the Pajaro Valley Unified School District on Tuesday — a move that is often a precursor to a lawsuit.
The claim, addressed to Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez and Board of Trustees President Jennifer Holm, partly blames the tragedy on a board decision in July 2020 to discontinue its school resource officer program.
It also claims district officials failed to properly supervise potentially violent students at the school, and did not properly discipline a student who authorities said was involved in the death for an earlier incident.
“We remain heartbroken by the tragic death of our Aptos High School student, and our prayers remain with his family,” said Rodriquez. “The entire PVUSD community shares in their grief and sadness.”
She said the board will review and take action on the claim at an upcoming meeting. However, because the “matter now involves pending litigation, the District cannot comment further on this case, other than to reiterate our sympathies and sincere condolences to the family involved.”
The parents’ attorney, Charles “Tony” Piccuta of the Piccuta Law Group based in Monterey, said that under state law, public entities cannot be sued without “giving notice of the claim first.”
“Here, the school district has 45 days to act on the claim, said Piccuta. “If they deny it, we can then file a lawsuit. If the school district fails to act within 45 days, the claim is deemed rejected/denied, and we can then also file a lawsuit.”
He added that he expects the district to deny the allegations and that a lawsuit will be filed.
The claim states that after in-person instruction began on Aug. 12, “Aptos High saw an increase in violence and fights with no SRO on campus.” It goes on to say one of these fights involved a 14-year-old — one of two students accused of causing the death — who pulled a knife on another student.
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“However, the incident on campus was not reported to law enforcement or child protective services,” the claim states. “Instead the 14-year-old was suspended for two days and returned to campus.”
About two weeks later, the claim states, the same 14-year-old — identified in the paperwork as “K.O.” — and a 17-year-old identified as “I.R.” attacked and killed the boy, leaving him for dead at about 2:30 p.m. near the school’s swimming pool. The claim states that both of the alleged assailants were known to have gang affiliations.
Though the claim does not make a specific money demand, the parents are claiming damages related to: medical care received by their son, pain and suffering as well as punitive damages.
In addition to Rodriguez and Holm, the claim lists other members of the PVUSD board as well as several administrators at Aptos High School.
The day following the stabbing, Santa Cruz Sheriff Jim Hart told Lookout that the district’s decision to end the SRO program could have put students at risk.
“Unfortunately, they have indicated that they don’t want any interaction with law enforcement now, so — here we are,” he said in September.
Piccuta said the parents were really upset there wasn’t any security on campus at the time of the incident.
“They want some kind of change,” he said, adding that the district has taken steps.
A few weeks after that point, the PVUSD board voted to return SROs to Aptos and Watsonville High Schools — pairing each with a mental health clinician. That program got off at least partly off the ground in October.