Mother says she struggled to keep daughter safe at Divisadero Middle School

The mother of a student assaulted by a fellow student on the Divisadero Middle School campus says the school and the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) failed to protect her daughter after the attack. The district has a violent campus that the administrators are unable to control, she said.

 

Surprise Attack

Early this school year, Misty Mae was shocked to learn her daughter had been the victim of a blindside attack by a fellow student she had once counted as a friend. The attack happened as students were shuttling between classes at Divisadero, and Mae was alerted to the incident immediately after it occurred by the school’s principal Alex Marroquin.

“The principal’s exact words were, ‘You’re going to be pissed,'” Mae said.

She was incensed. Not only had her daughter been attacked from behind, grabbed by the hair, thrown to the ground and struck repeatedly in the back of the head as she lay helpless, she had been allowed to continue to class. She was still there when Mae arrived, about 10 minutes after learning of the assault.

“I was like, ‘What?’ I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “When I got to the office, she still hadn’t been checked. Not only did she walk to class, but by the time I got to the office, she’d already sat in class for five to 10 minutes.”

Worried her daughter could be attacked again, that perhaps she could be suffering undetected results of a head injury, Mae demanded the school evaluate her.

“She hadn’t been checked by a nurse,” she said. “I had to ask for the nurse to come in. The school failed my daughter all the way around.”

 

Adding Insult to Injury

Mae’s anger was only made worse, she said, when the principal praised her daughter for going to class after the assault. The attacker was taken to the office after the incident, Mae said, while no one checked on the victim.

“Anything could have happened to my daughter that day,” she said.

The attack was broken up by a staff member a few seconds after it began, but not before Mae’s daughter was struck repeatedly in the back of the head by her female attacker.

Making matters far uglier, the attack was recorded in a premeditated effort to shame the victim. A male student working with the attacker recorded a video of the assault, which he then posted to his social media accounts to encourage bullying of the victim. Mae later shared the video herself in an effort to call attention to what she said was the school and district’s inadequate response to the attack, as well as the failure to protect her daughter.

The coordinated effort between the assailant and the male student was only discovered after the attacker had been punished with, Mae said, a five-day suspension from classes. When the premeditated nature of the incident was discovered, however, the school did not increase the punishment or consider expulsion, according to Mae.

The boy who recorded and shared the video of the assault was removed from the class he shared with Mae’s daughter. In what Mae said is another upsetting aspect of the affair, the boy was placed in the school’s honors leadership class for the associated student body.

Marroquin has stopped returning her calls, she said.

 

‘The Gotham City of Schools’

Because she felt unsafe returning to Divisadero, Mae’s daughter transferred to another middle school campus within VUSD.

“My daughter just started a new school this morning,” Mae said. “I had to change schools because they couldn’t ensure her safety.”

Mae describes the Divisadero campus as “the Gotham City of schools,” referring to the fictional city protected in comic books, TV and film by the superhero Batman. There were 10 assaults on the campus during the first week of the current school year, Mae claimed; Visalia Unified did not confirm or deny the assertion.

The unhealthy atmosphere at Divisadero, Mae said, continues, and the evidence is made public by students on their social media accounts on a regular basis. Videos shared by students show regular fights, taunting and laughing at victims, and bullying. The assaults depicted are often extremely violent, she said.

“I have a lot of TikTok videos, kids smoking in the restroom, teachers playing TikTok with kids,” she said. “How do they have time with all these problems? Just last week there were three fights, just last week.”

The experience has soured Mae’s view of education in Visalia.

“I’m just disgusted by the behavior of the adults at that school,” Mae said. “To put me in a position where I have to change my daughter’s school instead of taking care of the problem.”

Removing her daughter from campus, she felt, was the only safe alternative.

“Nothing’s getting done at this school,” Mae said. “It’s not going to be my child that something happens to there.”

A basic search of TikTok and Instagram videos led the Voice to multiple videos showing fights, others asking viewers to comment which student won them, and others still which ask viewers to decide which students would win in a fight.

Another genre of videos tagged pictures of students with “#gay,” “#weird,” “#uglygirls,” and “#weed.”

 

Protest Turns Violent

Mae claims it isn’t just school officials turning a blind eye to the alleged violence.

She said a Visalia police officer assigned to the school ignored a pair of violent incidents that happened during a recent protest to call attention to the chaos Mae claims grips Divisadero. Protesters were surrounded by hostile students and threatened, she said.

According to Mae, one protester was struck in the chest by a water bottle, and another bottle was thrown at a car.

She also received a threatening message from a student who said Mae was “lucky he don’t stomp my daughter’s face.”

The water bottle attack was witnessed by the Visalia Police Department officer assigned to the school, but he declined to intervene, Mae said. He also refused to take a police report regarding the message threatening her daughter, she said.

Mae and another parent – a father whose son was bullied constantly while on campus, leading to another violent in-class assault that went unpunished – organized the protest. Other parents and community members support the reform effort, Mae said.

“We’re coming together to do something about Divisadero,” she said.

A student posting on TikTok — choosing the name “divisaghetto” — made light of the protest, asking viewers to vote between “Marroquin” and “Parents” — and commenters backed the poster up.

@divis122

♬ original sound – Divisaghetto

“This is embarrassing someone need to get there [sic] parents the principal didn’t do nothing wrong TEAM MR. MAROLQUN [sic],” the post said.

“Marroquin innocent,” one commenter wrote. “marroquin anyday!” another said.

Later in the month, the TikTok account asked viewers to choose who won a fight between two girls at the school.

Mae said she plans to sue the VUSD regarding their response to the attack.

The district, she contends, has failed to uphold its zero-tolerance policy regarding on-campus student violence and allowed the situation to fester. She claims the district is aware of the situation, and said the school’s principal told her he had been assigned there to clean up the campus.

 

Social Media Rumors Behind Attack

Mae said the girl who attacked her daughter believed Mae’s daughter had insulted her and was seeking retaliation. The accusation was untrue, a product of the social media misinformation.

Her daughter, Mae said, is an honors student who has never been in trouble. She simply does not have a violent nature.

“She’s not a fighter,” Mae said. “She just loves school and wants to be there.”

At a meeting of the VUSD school board on September 27, Superintendent Kirk Shrum addressed the distortions social media can create in these situations. The district, he said, is taking a harsher stand on the misuse of social media by students.

“Students that use social media to instigate disruption or bullying will face significant consequences and even potentially legal charges,” he said.

Because social media has made the attack on Mae’s daughter a shared experience, she said her daughter has essentially been cut off from her former life.

“The girl who did this was my daughter’s friend,” Mae said. “She’s (Mae’s daughter) lost her whole circle of friends over this. Not one of them checked on her.”

No one from the school or the district checked up on Mae’s daughter either, she said, with the exception of her sixth-grade teacher, a man with whom she’d formed a close bond.

“I was lost and getting nowhere with the school,” Mae said. “He came over and gave her a little pep talk.”

 

VUSD Issues Statement

Following a telephone conversation, a series of questions regarding the incident were emailed to the district’s administrator for communications, strategy and outreach, Andre Pecina.

The Voice‘s questions were:

Is Divisadero an unusually violent campus? Was the principal sent there to clean it up? Did it have 10 fights in the first week of classes?

The assailant was suspended five days for fighting, but the punishment was not changed when the school learned about a criminal conspiracy to stage and film the attack. Is that true? Was the boy who filmed it moved to a leadership class? If so, is that appropriate?

Does the school have a medical protocol for treating the victims of the assaults that occur on VUSD campuses? Why was the victim in this case allowed to proceed to class and remain there?

In response, Pecina issued the following statement on behalf of the VUSD:

We are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff at every one of our schools, including Divisadero Middle School.  We do so by hiring the very best teachers, school leaders, and support staff to care for and support our students by implementing effective systems and practices in compliance with the educational code of conduct.

The district does not comment on any student information per privacy laws.

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