Bullying presents a problem for many students, but for eighth grader Breanna Mendoza the problem is life threatening.
“It’s not like a typical bullied child where when they get bullied or picked on, they get hurt,” said Wendy Mendoza, Breanna’s mother, “ her life is threatened at that point.”
Breanna, a previous Dutcher Middle School student who is now enrolled in Independent Study, has received numerous threats via social media over the past few months due to her facial deformity, Goldenhar Syndrome.
Goldenhar Syndrome is a congenital birth defect which involves deformities of the face and in Breanna’s case, the syndrome exclusively affects her ear, eye and jaw on the right side of her face.
As a result, Breanna has been the target of a number of bullying situations, including name-calling and physical threats through private messages.
“One girl said ‘I will take care of you on Monday’ and there was another note stating, ‘meet us alone and don’t bring your friends—we’ll deal with you one on one,’“ said Wendy. “These are threats.”
According to Wendy, if a bully were to actually follow through with these threats and hit Breanna on the jaw, it could potentially cut off her airway.
“She can’t breathe, so this is a very dangerous situation,” said Wendy.
It wasn’t until Wendy was notified by DMS vice principal Laura Torres-Rogers that her daughter had written a note in class stating that she wanted to commit suicide that both her and her husband, Miguel Mendoza, made the decision to immediately pull Breanna out of school.
“At that point, you’re on high alert as a parent to what’s going on and you’re freaking out and you don’t know what to do,” said Wendy. “The thought of your child wanting to kill themselves because of what other kids are saying is horrible.”
Although Wendy and Miguel are happy that their decision to pull their daughter out of school has significantly lessened the chances of her being the target of bullying situations, they are still disappointed with the response they have gotten from DMS and Turlock Unified School District.
According to Wendy, she had been notified by student services director Gil Ogden that Breanna’s case had already been closed, despite the fact that they had just turned in the paperwork that would launch an investigation that very same day.
“I didn’t understand when they had her sit down and literally type out a 12-page paper stating everything that had occurred,” said Wendy.
TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto told the Journal that the case has not been closed and is currently undergoing investigation.
The status of Breanna's bullying case is not the only element that leaves the Mendozas and TUSD at odds, as the Mendozas have also claimed that Ogden showed up at their house uninvited while the family was at a facial-cranial appointment in Sacramento.
During his visit, Wendy alleges that Ogden demanded for her phone number from her son and proceeded to yell at her over the phone.
“I told him this is completely inappropriate and that he was not invited to my house, nor did he make an appointment to come to my house,” said Wendy.
When asked for a comment, Da Marto explained the situation as a “home visit to the house to see if we could support the student in returning to school.”
While the Mendozas do not have any plans to return Breanna to school until she gets a student aide, they have enrolled her in Independent Study—a task that has also proved to be difficult.
“The school actually said we can do Independent Study with her until we can figure out what was going on,” said Miguel. “So we picked up some study packets.”
However, according to Miguel, when they returned the packets and asked for more, they were told that they were not allowed to come to the school—while at home, the family was still receiving phone calls regarding Breanna's absences.
“How is she absent if she is doing Independent Study?” questioned Miguel.
To solve the issue, Miguel attained a medical note to officially enroll his daughter in Independent Study and Wendy was required to officially request a study packet.
“We had to go to that extreme just to get her in Independent Study,” said Miguel.
Despite their tribulations with the school district, the eighth grader has received an outpouring of community support, including one family who has volunteered to pay for her to attend Turlock Christian Junior High School. A group of students at Dutcher have also made an effort to start an anti-bullying campaign.
One seventh grader at DMS, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Journal that she and a number of friends have attempted to post anti-bullying signs for Breanna, but were denied permission from Principal Scott Lucas because the signs had a student’s name on it.
When the students returned to Lucas with a request to post general anti-bullying signs without Breanna’s name, they were still denied.
According to the student, Lucas said he is working to resolve the bullying issues and told students the that they could potentially implement an anti-bully club next academic year.
In the meantime, the seventh grader reported that they are in the midst of a project to laminate positive sayings, including “Don’t Bully, Be a Friend,” “Power of a Friend,” and “The No-Bully Zone,” to attach to students’ backpacks.
“There’s a lot of students at Dutcher who really do miss Breanna,” said the seventh grader. “We just want to tell her that.”