School district reaches $10 million settlement with family following heat-related death of student athlete

A Georgia school district has reached a $10 million settlement with the family of a student who died of heatstroke during basketball practice in 2019.

The Clayton County school district announced…

A Georgia school district has reached a $10 million settlement with the family of a student who died of heatstroke during basketball practice in 2019.

The Clayton County school district announced the settlement last week, concluding a lawsuit filed in 2021 by the family of Imani Bell.

Bell, a student athlete with no preexisting conditions, died at 16 in August 2019 after collapsing during basketball practice. She had been running outdoor stadium steps on a day that reached 97 degrees and died the same day. According to the lawsuit, the cause of death was cardiac arrest and kidney failure related to the heat.

Elite Scholars Academy staff were accused of violating rules set by the Georgia High School Association regarding sports in the heat. The lawsuit claimed practice in the conditions in which Bell collapsed were not allowed by the rules. Additionally, the school allegedly lacked required equipment for mitigating the risk of injuries in the heat. 

A separate criminal case remains ongoing, in which coaches Larosa Walker-Asekere and Dwight Palmer face charges including felony murder and child cruelty. 

As part of the settlement, the Elite Scholars Academy gym was renamed to honor Bell at a ceremony on Tuesday. A district statement was released on the same day: 

“The Clayton County School District is pleased we were able to reach the best possible resolution of this tragic case involving the passing of Imani Bell. We have all lost a wonderful student. The attention this afternoon is rightfully on her legacy. The School District stands with the community in its commitment to the education and safety of its students.” 

The settlement “sends a nationwide message to every school district and every athletic program,” said L. Chris Stewart, attorney for Bell’s family, “that the lives of our children matter over athletics, and every district needs to realize that no child should die from heat exhaustion. We salute Clayton County for sending that message nationwide.”

Bell’s family started the Keep Imani Foundation, which will be partially funded by money received in the settlement. The foundation seeks to help children in need of glasses, provide cold tubs for schools, and facilitate heat exhaustion education.

“One of the biggest things that saddened me when Imani passed was, would she be remembered,” said Dorian Bell, Imani’s mother. “I found that was the silliest thing to ever think. Someone loved that much you could never forget. But this foundation gives us an opportunity to honor her, to honor other youth, to help others, and we are very excited about that.”