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School District Sued by Family of 11-Year-Old Girl Who Died by Suicide After Alleged Bullying

In a time when many pre-teen antics are uploaded to TikTok and Instagram, a video out of Vallejo shared on social media last year holds something disturbing. In it, a sixth-grade girl stands in a school yard with her back to the camera, her long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail and her bright pink backpack on her shoulders. Suddenly, an arm shoots out, reaches for the girl’s hair and yanks her down very hard, sending the child sprawling to the ground. The 11-year-old girl in the pink backpack was Maria “Therese” Caguin and she took her own life on Jan. 2 because she was repeatedly bullied at her school, her parents said. Now they are suing the school district for allegedly allowing their daughter to be subjected to physical, cyber and verbal bullying.

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Therese's death shocked and horrified not only her parents, but the greater community. Parents are calling for something to be done about bullying at Hogan Middle School in Vallejo.
Therese's death shocked and horrified not only her parents, but the greater community. Parents are calling for something to be done about bullying at Hogan Middle School in Vallejo.

By Katy St. Clair
Bay City News

In a time when many pre-teen antics are uploaded to TikTok and Instagram, a video out of Vallejo shared on social media last year holds something disturbing.

In it, a sixth-grade girl stands in a school yard with her back to the camera, her long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail and her bright pink backpack on her shoulders. Suddenly, an arm shoots out, reaches for the girl’s hair and yanks her down very hard, sending the child sprawling to the ground.

The 11-year-old girl in the pink backpack was Maria “Therese” Caguin and she took her own life on Jan. 2 because she was repeatedly bullied at her school, her parents said. Now they are suing the school district for allegedly allowing their daughter to be subjected to physical, cyber and verbal bullying.

Therese’s death shocked and horrified not only her parents, but the greater community. Parents are calling for something to be done about bullying at Hogan Middle School in Vallejo.

Therese’s sister set up a GoFundMe the day after her death to raise funds for her funeral.

“Yesterday my little sister Therese took her own life. My dad found her in her room. She was only 11 years old,” reads the post. “This has been the most unexpected and saddest thing we’ve had to endure as a family.”

The principal of Hogan Middle School, Rosalind Hines, referred all questions about Therese’s alleged bullying and death to the Vallejo City Unified School District, which did not comment on the girl’s death. Hines did send out a message to parents on Jan. 6 in the wake of Therese’s death.

“With a heavy heart, I share the news of the passing of one of our own,” she wrote. “This sudden loss will surely raise many emotions, concerns, and questions for our entire school, especially our students.”

Hines went on to say that mental health support staff would be made available.

The reaction on Facebook was a mixture of sadness and anger, with one poster saying, “Maybe they should have stated that this poor child committed suicide due to bullying at that school. Why sugar coat it? Those bullies should suffer consequences.”

Therese’s mother Vionalyn Caguin, a single mom who also has a 3-year-old son, said she has been “completely broken” by her daughter’s death, saying she had no idea how much she had been going through.

“She just kept it to herself,” said Caguin, who said she knew her daughter wasn’t thriving at school but she didn’t know the extent of her trauma.

Caguin said she felt her daughter was trying to protect her from concern because she knew life wasn’t easy for her single mother.

“She didn’t want me to worry, but I was always saying, ‘Mama’s here.’ I made sure I was always there for her,” she said.

Caguin repeatedly asked her daughter how she was doing at her new school. Therese began at Hogan in August and was having difficulty making friends. She was obedient, quiet and sweet, her mother said.

Still, after a few months at Hogan, her mom knew something was wrong and began trying to find a different school for her daughter, she said, though other schools had waiting lists.

Caguin said that she didn’t fully understand the scope of the bullying until after her daughter’s death and she saw the video of her being assaulted in the school yard.

“When I saw that video, I said, oh my God, it’s breaking my heart, because I didn’t know that it’s that bad,” she said through tears during a visit to her daughter’s grave in a Vallejo cemetery.

Caguin said the school had told her last fall that there was an “incident” involving her daughter and that the kids would “face consequences,” but that the school never told her the extent of what happened, and neither did her daughter.

According to the claim filed Thursday, the school allegedly assured Therese’s parents that they would “take reasonable and appropriate measures to stop the bullying endured by” their daughter.

“Hogan Middle School did nothing to intervene and stop the harassment and bullying and did not follow the policies and procedures to make sure that Decedent and other students on campus were not continually harassed and bullied,” reads the claim.

Though Therese didn’t confide in her mother, she did reach out to a teacher. On or about October or November, she emailed a teacher to say that she “wanted to die,” the family’s claim alleges.

The suit alleges that the school then “did nothing to intervene.”

“In cases such as this, it requires the maximum amount of attention to bring about change,” said attorney for the family Bryan Harrison. “You have a situation in which the parents have entrusted the faculty and administration with trust to care for and protect, what is most meaningful to us as parents — our children.”

He said, “For the staff and faculty to ignore repeated instances of bullying, and in this particular case, ignore actual notice from a child directly that the child was thinking about hurting herself as a result of bullying, it’s not just negligent, it’s grossly negligent.”

A spokesperson for the school district provided their approach to the problem of bullying.

“We have multiple ways to respond to bullying at Hogan Middle School and across the district,” said district spokesperson Celina Baguiao.

Baguiao said all campuses have mental health support providers, academic support providers, and a way to report bullying either directly or anonymously. She also said Vallejo schools contract with outside agencies about bullying, including governmental agencies and nonprofits. There is a care team at Hogan that meets weekly to discuss concerns and an “end of day huddle” with staff to check in with each other about occurrences throughout the day.

Another mother of a child at Hogan said that abuse her daughter faced at the hands of kids there and even a teacher ramped up after Therese’s suicide.

“My daughter’s depressed,” Lauren Keltz, mother of a 13-year-old girl currently at Hogan, said she told a school administrator. “She told me that she is feeling worthless and stupid and suicidal. And I said to the school, ‘I’m telling you right now … because of your guys’ lack of intervention, I’m going to hold you personally accountable.'”

Keltz said no one ever pulled her daughter aside to ask how she was doing.

She said initially the bullying at the school allegedly came from a teacher, who called her daughter “stupid” and “retarded.”

The teacher did not respond to a request for comment and the school district also declined to comment.

Keltz said the news of Therese’s death after her own daughter’s experience at the school horrified her and made her more determined to speak out about what she says is happening at Hogan.

Lawsuits against school districts for bullying are not that uncommon. Last August, the El Segundo Unified School District in Los Angeles County was ordered to pay $1 million in a suit filed on behalf of a 13-year-old girl who was bullied, with students going as far as creating a petition to end her life.

This February in Ocean County, New Jersey, a 14-year-old girl who was bullied took her own life and her alleged attackers have been charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault. The superintendent of schools in the community has also resigned as a result. The district is currently being sued for another case of alleged bullying as well.

For Therese’s family, suing the Vallejo district is a way to try to foster change.

“I don’t want my daughter’s life to be erased,” said Caguin. “I want something different from the school. Don’t ignore those things that are happening. Even if my daughter’s not coming back, they have to change.”

 

 

Copyright © 2023 Bay City News, Inc.  All rights reserved.  Republication, rebroadcast or redistribution without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. Bay City News is a 24/7 news service covering the greater Bay Area.

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KatyStClair1639p03/03/23

 

CONTACT: Bryan Harrison, attorney for Caguin family bryan@h-klaw.com

Celina Baguiao, spokesperson for the Vallejo City Unified School District cbaguiao@vcusd.org

 

 

 

 

EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: Images related to this story can be obtained from the following Bay City News Service web links:

https://www.baycitynews.com/images/BCN-20230210-SUICIDE-01.jpg

Vionalyn Caguin sits at the grave of her 11-year-old daughter, Maria ‘Therese’ Caguin, at All Souls Cemetery in Vallejo, Calif., on Feb. 10, 2023. Maria took her life on Jan. 2, after being repeatedly bullied at Hogan Middle School in Vallejo. The family is suing the school district. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

 

https://www.baycitynews.com/images/BCN-20230210-SUICIDE-02.jpg

Vionalyn Caguin wipes away tears as she speaks about her 11-year-old daughter, Maria ‘Therese’ Caguin, at All Souls Cemetery in Vallejo, Calif., on Feb. 10, 2023. Maria took her life on Jan. 2, after being repeatedly bullied at Hogan Middle School in Vallejo. The family is suing the school district. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

 

https://www.baycitynews.com/images/BCN-20230210-SUICIDE-04.jpg

Vionalyn Caguin holds a photo album of photos of her 11-year-old daughter, Maria ‘Therese’ Caguin, at All Souls Cemetery in Vallejo, Calif., on Feb. 10, 2023. Maria took her life on Jan. 2, after being repeatedly bullied at Hogan Middle School in Vallejo. The family is suing the school district. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

 

https://www.baycitynews.com/images/BCN-20230210-SUICIDE-05.jpg

Vionalyn Caguin holds a photo album of photos of her 11-year-old daughter, Maria ‘Therese’ Caguin, at All Souls Cemetery in Vallejo, Calif., on Feb. 10, 2023. Maria took her life on Jan. 2, after being repeatedly bullied at Hogan Middle School in Vallejo. The family is suing the school district. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

 

https://www.baycitynews.com/images/BCN-20230210-SUICIDE-06.jpg

The grave of 11-year-old Maria ‘Therese’ Caguin at All Souls Cemetery in Vallejo, Calif., on Feb. 10, 2023. Maria took her life on Jan. 2, after being repeatedly bullied at Hogan Middle School in Vallejo. The family is suing the school district. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

 

https://www.baycitynews.com/images/BCN-20230210-SUICIDE-07.jpg

Vionalyn Caguin holds a photo album of photos of her 11-year-old daughter, Maria ‘Therese’ Caguin, at All Souls Cemetery in Vallejo, Calif., on Feb. 10, 2023. Maria took her life on Jan. 2, after being repeatedly bullied at Hogan Middle School in Vallejo. The family is suing the school district. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

 

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Bay Area

Gov. Newsom Requests Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for Counties Impacted By Storms

Gov. Gavin Newsom sent a request Tuesday for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for nine California counties, including Monterey County. If approved, the move will pave the way for federal aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be provided to local governments and individuals impacted by storms in February and March.

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Monterey County Sheriff, Tina Nieto, provides California Governor Gavin Newsom an update on the Pajaro River levee repair near the township of Pajaro, Calif., in Monterey County on March 15, 2023. Floodwaters breached the levee around midnight on March 10, 2023. (Ken James/California Department of Water Resources via Bay City News)
Monterey County Sheriff, Tina Nieto, provides California Governor Gavin Newsom an update on the Pajaro River levee repair near the township of Pajaro, Calif., in Monterey County on March 15, 2023. Floodwaters breached the levee around midnight on March 10, 2023. (Ken James/California Department of Water Resources via Bay City News)

By Thomas Hughes
Bay City News
Gov. Gavin Newsom sent a request Tuesday for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for nine California counties, including Monterey County.
If approved, the move will pave the way for federal aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be provided to local governments and individuals impacted by storms in February and March.
In addition to Monterey County, the request included Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, along with Calaveras, Kern, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Tulare and Tuolumne counties.
Four other counties were added to a previous emergency declaration from the governor, including Alameda, Marin, Modoc and Shasta counties.
“Over these past months, state, local and federal partners have worked around the clock to protect our communities from devastating storms that have ravaged every part of our state. We will continue to deploy every tool we have to help Californians rebuild and recover from these storms,” Newsom said.
If approved, aid from FEMA can be used for individual housing assistance, food aid, counseling, medical and legal services. It will also cover some storm-related costs like debris removal.
The Monterey County Board of Supervisors has requested additional state aid to help undocumented residents receive direct assistance that they aren’t eligible for from FEMA.
The governor said in a press release that funding from the state’s Rapid Response Fund would be made available to those residents and will ensure that families with mixed immigration status can access federal aid.
A local resources center opened Wednesday at the Watsonville Veterans Memorial Building at 215 E. Beach St. The center will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. through April 7. The center is staffed with personnel from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and Monterey County emergency staff who will help guide Monterey County residents through the recovery process.
An eviction moratorium was passed by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will provide limited eviction protection for residents who lost income because of the storms. If the Presidential Disaster Declaration is approved, FEMA assistance could help some eligible residents receive money to help pay rent, which will not be forgiven during the moratorium.

Copyright © 2023 Bay City News, Inc.  All rights reserved.  Republication, rebroadcast or redistribution without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. Bay City News is a 24/7 news service covering the greater Bay Area.

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Activism

20 Years Later, Breast Cancer Emergency Fund a Testament to Faith Fancher’s Enduring Legacy

When a woman is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, chemotherapy and radiation often make her too weak to work. If she is working a low-paying job or unemployed, the mounting bills can become overwhelming. For 20 years, the Women’s Cancer Resource Center (WCRC) has provided a lifeline. The Berkeley-based non-profit organization administers the Faith Fancher Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, which gives cash grants of up to $595 to low-income women in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties who are battling breast cancer.

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Faith Fancher, a KTVU reporter, died of breast cancer in 2003.
Faith Fancher, a KTVU reporter, died of breast cancer in 2003

By Tammerlin Drummond

When a woman is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, chemotherapy and radiation often make her too weak to work. If she is working a low-paying job or unemployed, the mounting bills can become overwhelming.

For 20 years, the Women’s Cancer Resource Center (WCRC) has provided a lifeline. The Berkeley-based non-profit organization administers the Faith Fancher Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, which gives cash grants of up to $595 to low-income women in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties who are battling breast cancer.

Grant recipients have used the money to help pay for food, utilities, rent, car insurance, medical co-pays and other necessities. One woman who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer said she used her $595 grant to buy an oxygen concentrator.

“You could say the air I breathe is because of your generosity,” she said. “I am so incredibly grateful to you and am feeling better every day.

The fund is named in honor of Faith Fancher, a popular television reporter at KTVU who died in 2003 after a valiant battle against breast disease, the web site says. Fancher saw her own cancer as an opportunity to use her public profile to raise awareness and educate others about the importance of early detection.

Fancher founded an organization called Friends of Faith that was dedicated to raising funds for low-income women with breast cancer.

It was 20 years ago this March that Fancher first approached the Women’s Cancer Resource Center about setting up an emergency grant program for women going through breast cancer treatment.

One of the earliest recipients was a 50-year-old homeless woman who used her $595 grant to pay for moving costs into housing she could afford.

“Faith understood the financial burden that low-income individuals faced when diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Dolores Moorehead, who oversees the fund at the WCRC. “This was the first fund dedicated to financial support being offered in the East Bay.”

Over the past two decades, the Faith Fancher Breast Cancer Emergency Fund has given out $992,000 in one-time cash grants. There have been 2,500 beneficiaries, including women and some men with breast cancer.

Ricki Stevenson, a founding member of Friends of Faith, reflected on Fancher’s legacy and the enduring impact of the emergency fund that she created.

“It says that Faith continues to be a presence and it wasn’t just about her,” Stevenson said. “It was so all of the other sisters who come behind us they now have help even though they don’t have the same resources.”

Rosie Allen, another founding member of Friends of Faith, said Fancher left a lasting impact. “Twenty years later Faith is no longer with us, but the breast cancer emergency fund lives on and the need is even greater than ever.”

The Friends of Faith used to host an annual 5K walk/run at Lake Merritt to honor Fancher after she died. It raised funds for the emergency fund and other Bay Area non-profits that provide services to breast cancer survivors.

After Friends of Faith disbanded in 2017, the To Celebrate Life Foundation, former Friends of Faith board members and community members have continued to support the breast cancer emergency fund.

Shyanne Reese used her grant to help pay her rent while she was going through breast cancer treatment.

“I often reflect on how I wish I could share with Faith the impact her life and friends made on me in a non-judgement environment, relieving the financial stress of simply paying the rent so that I could focus on healing,” Reese said.

“With your support, we are able to continue this fund and support our community members when they need us most, said WCRC Executive Director Amy Alanes.

To donate to the Faith Fancher Breast Cancer Emergency fund, visit https://tinyurl.com/FaithFancher.

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Oakland Post: Week of March 29 – April 4, 2023

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of March 29 – April 4, 2023

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The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of March 29 - April 4, 2023

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