Lansing School District reaches $500,000 settlement in student’s death

Lansing School District reaches $500,000 settlement in student’s death


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LANSING – The family of Michael Martin, an Everett High School student who took his own life after he said he was bullied in school, reached a $500,000settlement with Lansing School District, records show.

Joanna Wohlfert with her son Michael Martin. Michael, 13, an eighth grader at Everett New Tech High School, died by suicide Jan. 25, 2019. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Joanna Wohlfert)

Michael, 13, died on Jan. 25, 2019. He’d been bullied for months before his death, his mother, Joanna Wohlfert, said. She told the State Journal last year she asked school staff and Dean Transportation, the company that provides bus services for the district, multiple times for help in addressing bullying on the school bus and at Everett.

She never got it, Wohlfert said after his death.

Ingham County Probate Court Judge Richard Garcia approved the settlement in October.

As a “personal representative” for her son’s estate, Wohlfert agreed to “RELEASE AND FOREVER DISCHARGE” Lansing schools, former Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul, other staff, administrators and officials, and “any and all other persons, entities, companies, or corporations involved in the settlement of any future claims related to Michael’s death,” according to a release Wohlfert signed and the State Journal obtained through a public records request to the school district.  

Documents show $332,182 was to be paid to Michael’s estate and $167,818 to Wohlfert’s attorneys.

The district did not admit liability.

The release Wohlfert signed prohibits her from discussing the terms of the settlement and from disparaging the school district. Wohlfert declined to comment when reached Monday and Jennifer Salvatore, an attorney representing Michael’s estate, didn’t respond to a message from the State Journal Monday.

School district spokesperson Bob Kolt said Monday he wasn’t aware of the settlement. He said he would forward written questions to the school district’s attorneys.

Lansing Board of Education President Gabrielle Lawrence also asked a State Journal reporter Monday to send her questions via email.

The district has not responded to those questions.

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Nearly half the students interviewed for an internal investigation Lansing schools conducted after Michael’s death said they witnessed or heard about students calling Michael names or shoving him at school.

Several also said they noticed a change in Michael’s behavior in the months before his death.

Several of Michael’s teachers told the school district’s investigator that they noticed those changes, too. They had talked about Michael in December 2018 and submitted a written referral that month to the school’s Assistant Principal Priscilla Ellis, asking that Michael receive some kind of intervention.

The internal investigation report didn’t address what action, if any, was taken regarding the teachers’ request.

A Lansing police report the Lansing State Journal obtained through a public records request shows a Dean Transportation employee did not return two voicemail messages left by Wohlfert two weeks before Michael took his own life.

The employee who failed to return Wohlfert’s phone calls was immediately removed from her position and placed on indefinite leave last spring. A message for comment was left with a spokesperson for Dean Transportation on Tuesday.

Contact Rachel Greco at rgreco@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.

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