Kin Of Boy Who Killed Self Seeks Monetary Damages, Injunction Against School District

Mason Stockstill, Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.), September 7, 2006

Ontario—The family of a boy who committed suicide after an immigration rally earlier this year is asking a federal judge to bar the school district from disciplining students who miss class to attend such protests.

The family has said Anthony Soltero, 14, killed himself because he was threatened with harsh discipline for skipping class to attend a rally. He died April 1.

“Anthony was learning about the importance of civic duties and rights in his eighth-grade class,” said Louise Corales, the boy’s mother. “We have to let the schools know that they can’t punish our children for exercising their rights.”

Corales filed a federal lawsuit against the Ontario-Montclair School District, alleging the boy’s civil rights were violated and negligence led to his death. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

It also names as defendants the principal and vice principal of De Anza Middle School. The family says Vice Principal Gene Bennett threatened Anthony with juvenile hall for skipping class.

Many at pro-immigrant rallies have called the boy a martyr who died for the cause, but a fellow student who was with Anthony the day of the protest said they only attended the event briefly before they were scared off by the heavy police presence.

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District Superintendent Sharon McGehee previously said the boy was not threatened with incarceration, and district officials did not believe he participated in the immigration protests.

The family also asked for an injunction prohibiting the district from punishing students for missing class to attend protests or rallies, alleging that doing so violates students’ First Amendment rights.

Hundreds of students from several Inland Valley school districts were cited by police for skipping class without permission during the rallies, including dozens from Ontario-Montclair.

For several days in March, thousands of students in schools around Southern California walked out of class as part of a planned mass rally to protest HR 4437, a U.S. House bill that would create harsh punishments for illegal immigrants, including making undocumented presence in the country a felony.

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Ontario—Lawyers and family members for a boy who took his own life this spring admonished Ontario/Montclair School District officials on Thursday for a policy they say unfairly criminalizes students who take part in protests.

Board members at the regularly scheduled meeting sat quietly as Louise Corales, mother of 14-year-old Anthony Soltero, asked the board to discontinue a policy that punishes students who exercise their constitutional rights.

“I just want things to change,” she said, as part of brief remarks made during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Family members said Soltero killed himself because he was threatened with harsh discipline for skipping class in March to attend an immigration rally. He died April 1.

Thousands of students in schools around Southern California walked out of class as part of a planned mass protest against HR 4437, a U.S. House of Representatives bill that would create harsh punishments for illegal immigrants. The bill would make undocumented presence in the country a felony.

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During brief comments before the start of the meeting, the family’s attorney, R. Samuel Paz, said the school’s policy is unconstitutional. The policy also does not reflect municipal codes in the cities of Montclair and Ontario, which make it unlawful to penalize people who take part in First Amendment exercises, Paz said.

“I’m here to ask you to publicly rescind that policy, because it is against the law,” he said.

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