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School district named in wrongful-death suit

William Kizer of Sonoma, whose 16-year-old son Adam was a suicide victim in 2015, has filed suit this week against the Sonoma Valley Unified School District and other agencies for the wrongful death of his son. The suit was filed in Sonoma County Superior Court on Wednesday, July 13.

Although the offices of the school district were closed this week, calls for comment were responded to by district spokesperson Loyal Carlon, director of human resources for SVUSD, who said he had not been informed of the suit until contacted by the Index-Tribune and preferred not to comment without knowing the details. School District Superintendent Louann Carlomagno was out of town and unavailable for comment.

The suit was brought against the County of Sonoma, its Human Services Department, the county Family, Youth and Human Services, and the school district. The Valley of the Moon Children’s Home is also named in the suit, a facility where the young Kizer spent some time in child protective services, as is Sonoma Valley High School, where Kizer was enrolled at the time of his death.

Kizer charges willful negligence in the wrongful-death suit, outlining a series of events that included his son’s diagnosis with major depressive disorder recurrent with psychotic symptoms and suicidal ideations.

At Adele Harrison Adam got into fights and was sent to juvenile hall, though he was able to enroll at SVHS in the fall of 2014. There, according to the allegations in the suit, he was subjected to bullying by another SVHS student which “caused Adam to suffer emotional distress and exacerbated his depression.”

Kizer told another Sonoma newspaper that four unnamed high school students in particular bullied his son, and attacked him at a school event, sending him to the hospital. Kizer said other verbal bullying incidents followed, and said he reported them to school officials each time.

When reached by the Index-Tribune, however, Kizer referred questions to his attorneys, Allison Worden and Carlie Bouslaugh with the Gomez Trial Attorneys group. At press time, they had not responded to calls for comment.

The suit alleges that though the school district said a “safety plan” was put in place to mediate bullying and the effects it had on Adam, the plaintiff “alleges that no such plan was put in place or that such plan was not enforced by the staff of SVHS and that Adam continued to be bullied.”

Though Adam was placed in the VMCH for an unspecified period of time, he was released to his father in May of 2015. Kizer said that the school district and county should have told him Adam was a suicide risk, but did not. Shortly after he was returned to the care of his father, on May 26, Adam committed a suicidal act that resulted in his death four days later when he was taken off life support.

An impromptu candlelight vigil was held in the Sonoma Plaza on May 31, during which time several students called for recognition of and action against bullying in the high school. Kirsten Storment, then president of the campus Gay-Straight Alliance, told the Index-Tribune at the time, “He was definitely one of the more bullied kids at our school.”

The suit specifically charges negligence against the school district for failing “to provide Adam with a safe environment and equal access to educational opportunity.” The county services are faulted for returning Adam to the custody of his father without acknowledging that “William would suffer great emotional distress if Adam committed suicide in his custody.”

The suit asks for compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, costs of suit and other relief the court deems proper. A case management conference has been set for Nov. 10, 2016, by which time all defendants must submit a written response to the complaint.

Email Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.