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Mother of High School Girl Who Overdosed Files Potential Landmark Lawsuit Against LAUSD

Welcome to L.A. TACO’s education column, “The L.A. Public School Report,” made possible by Great Public Schools Now

Nearly four months after the death of Melanie Ramos, the 15-year-old Helen Bernstein High School student who overdosed on what is believed to be Percocet pills laced with Fentanyl, her mother, Elena Perez, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Ramos’ mother, Elena Perez, balanced a baby on her hip. At the same time, her family and their attorneys told a crowd of reporters about the harrowing day of Ramos’ death. The lawsuit contends that LAUSD faculty and administration neglected to properly account for students and intervene in what attorneys call a “drug haven” on the Bernstein campus located in Hollywood.

The lawsuit could potentially be a landmark case for LAUSD as fentanyl, and other drugs are coming into contact with more and more students on school campuses. According to the complaint filed on December 12, there were six overdoses at Bernstein in 2022 alone. Deaths from Fentanyl overdoses in L.A. County spiked from three to 28 in just two years between 2018 and 2020. 

Over 500 students were suspended from LAUSD campuses for drug-related incidents during the 2019-2020 school year, according to data from the California Department of Education.

Elena Perez and her baby at the press conference addressing the death of her daughter.
Elena Perez and her baby at the press conference, addressing the fentanyl-based death of her 15-year-old daughter, Melanie Ramos. Photo by Emily Holshouser for L.A. TACO.

In early October, another Bernstein student nearly died from a Fentanyl overdose. They received a dose of Narcan, which was placed on LAUSD campuses in the aftermath of Ramos’ death as part of a new plan to curb drugs on school campuses. Also, a part of the plan was closely monitoring campus areas where drugs can be traded.

“This should never have happened,” attorney Luis Carillo said. “Their daughter did not have to die on that campus.” 

The lawsuit primarily addresses safety precautions that Ramos’ family say could have saved her life. Attorneys argue the school did not check bathrooms between class changes, which allowed drug sales to run rampant, and that students would often go missing from their classes after a lunch period sent students all over the campus shared by Bernstein and two other schools. 

“We’re just seeking justice,” said Ramos’ aunt Gladys Manriquez. “It took hours for them to find my niece. Where was the staff? Where were the teachers, the administration?”

A timeline of the day Ramos died alleges that school officials called Perez around 12:30 p.m. to tell her that Ramos had not returned to class after lunch. Eight hours later, at 8:30 p.m., Ramos was found dead in a bathroom on campus, allegedly by the parent of another student who had gone missing that day. Ramos’ family was not notified of her death for another four hours, until nearly 2 a.m. the following morning. 

“We don’t want another parent to suffer the way we’re suffering,” said Ramos’ godmother Xochitl Quintero. “We have to help Elena because of the pain she’s going through right now.”

An LAUSD spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“The safety and well-being of our students and employees remains our top priority,” the spokesperson said.

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