SACRAMENTO — The Shimizu family on Wednesday accepted $1 million to settle their claim against the Folsom/Cordova Unified School District for failing to protect their son, Ronin Shimizu, from pervasive bullying that led him to commit suicide at the age of 12 on Dec. 3, 2014, devastating their lives.
School bullies targeted Ronin with anti-gay attacks for being a male cheerleader, for his creative interests, and just for being who he was, forcing him, at times, out of the boys’ restroom and telling him to use the girls’ restroom, or pushing him down into the mud.
Ronin was bullied even before entering third grade at Russel Ranch School in Folsom, and physical and psychological bullying continued even as he changed schools in an attempt to avoid the negative treatment from peers, which ultimately led his parents to remove him from Folsom Middle School and to initiate home schooling.
Following Ronin’s death, District Superintendent Deborah Bettancourt, expressed her condolences and outlined changes she and the district had implemented. Going forward, district schools will educate students about the pain and trauma that bullying causes and take steps to intervene when such behavior is brought to their attention; train teachers in how to recognize and prevent bullying; require parents to review bullying prohibitions with their children; and implement a complaint and investigation procedure to insure that bullies are disciplined.
Recent films such as “Bully” and “A Girl Like Her,” which have been shown and viewed widely, highlight the harm that bullying causes and have led to an increasing awareness of this behavior, which has moved into cyberspace and caused several students to take their own lives.
The Shimizu family has founded an organization, Ronin’s Voice, through which they hope to provide support and assistance to victims of bullying and to help parents of bullied students get their school districts to provide the safe school environment that statutes, including California’s recently adopted Seth’s Law, require.
Mark Merin, the Sacramento civil rights attorney who represented the Shimizu family in negotiations with the district, said that while no amount of money can compensate for the tremendous loss the family experienced, the settlement emphasizes the obligations incumbent on all school districts and personnel to protect students from bullying and to provide a safe environment for the education of children in their care.
Parents Brandon and Danielle Shimizu said in a statement, “We wish to thank the thousands of kind people who expressed their condolences, offered their personal support and interest in seeking reform against school bullying. We also appreciate the assistance and support provided to us by the Florin Chapter of the Japanese Americans’ Citizens League.”
The family has asked the media not to contact them and to respect their privacy. They will not issue any further public statements at this time.