Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson and the district’s trustees face perhaps the biggest challenge in his nearly 27 months of leadership.
On Wednesday, a student was removed from Bullard High School by Fresno police for his safety and the safety of others after running all over the campus screaming threats and epithets. The student eluded capture for about 20 minutes — even with 10 or more administrators, campus security personnel, and Fresno police officers in hot pursuit.
The Fresno Police Department and Fresno Unified declined to identify the student, but multiple witnesses say it was the same student involved in a confrontation with trustee Terry Slatic and his aide on Jan. 11.
District Completely Failed This Student
Most troubling: Multiple people at Bullard High say that the school’s administration failed to regard the student’s alleged threats against the trustee and the aide as a sign the student needed counseling and emotional support.
Instead, these Bullard staff members say, administrators took a hands-off approach — allowing him to roam campus without consequences. They say that he skipped classes, threatened other students and teachers, and struck at least one student and one teacher after Jan. 11.
I am not blaming the student. He clearly needed help, and he got none from a district that is either totally incompetent or callously uncaring. Perhaps, in this case, it was both.
Fresno Unified Families Need Answers
The questions for Nelson and trustees are many:
— Are you going to hold accountable the people who completely failed this student?
— In the bigger picture, will you do something meaningful about the discipline and safety problems that detract from learning at many campuses?
— Will you invest resources in expanding Phoenix Secondary Academy so that the many more students in grades 7-12 dealing with trauma — diagnosed and undiagnosed — receive needed support and enter adult life better equipped to succeed?
— Will you aggressively rebuild the district’s special education program, bringing in top-tier leaders, teachers, and psychologists? Will you implement the plan recommended by the Council of the Great City Schools? Nothing less than the best will suffice.
Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla talked about discipline challenges in a March 18 response to a “Friday Message” three days earlier from Nelson.
“Structural changes are needed to our student accountability & discipline policies. Students are looking to us to provide structure and guidance, to keep them safe and hold them accountable, while at the same time ensuring that past behavior doesn’t dictate their future. However, in implementation, teachers are often left without any supports.
There is fear to speak up because teachers feel like they will either not be heard or be seen as a teacher who ‘can’t handle their classroom.’ Sometimes site admin. have fear that their school has too many suspensions. And so on, and so on . …”
This Clearly Not an ‘Isolated’ Incident
GV Wire is not publishing the names of the witnesses to Wednesday’s disturbance nor of other Bullard staff members who described the student’s behavior for the past two months. All said they feared reprisals from district leaders for talking about what they observed.
“They don’t want any light shined into the darkness,” said one witness.
The district has downplayed Wednesday’s disturbance, calling it an “isolated” incident involving a single student. In a 43-second voice mail sent to families in the Bullard district, principal Carlos Castillo said that there “was not a safety risk to students and staff. ” Later, Castillo said that there was “no danger to our campus.”
Listen to Bullard High School principal Carlos Castillo’s phone message to parents.
But that doesn’t square with witness accounts. And the student’s wild outburst Wednesday wasn’t an isolated event.
“He ran out to the football field and they brought the students into the cafeteria for their safety, but he followed them in there,” said a teacher. “It took them forever to finally corral him.
“He has been a ticking time bomb since the Slatic incident. Basically, he has been roaming the campus daily. He slammed his girlfriend against a wall. He told staff members, ‘I’m going to knock you out.’ But our administration didn’t want to deal with him head-on. Instead, they stopped suspending him.
“He needed help that we don’t have on our campus, and then it blew up Wednesday. I don’t blame the kid. He’s a victim of a school district that chose not to do anything to help him.”
A ‘Revolving Door’ for Troubled Students
Another Bullard staff member saw campus security and police officers, along with administrators in golf carts, failing to catch the student for at least 20 minutes.
Asked whether the district’s description of the disturbance was accurate, the staff member said, “There are a lot of things that go on here they don’t want discussed truthfully.”
Still another witness talked more about the district’s “revolving door” policy for disruptive students than about Wednesday’s wild chase.
“They just rotate kids from campus to campus without providing any solutions,” the staff member said. “There are about 10 more students here who need serious help and who need to be in a much smaller educational environment than a high school like Bullard.”
Will District Run or Act?
Though it tried, the district’s PR machine couldn’t keep what happened at Bullard covered up.
Thanks to a brave few willing to speak the truth — along with a video from a Bullard student —we know a lot more about what happened and, more important, why it happened.
Will the district simply nod and move on? Or will it treat this as a wake-up call to its systemic failures?
Nelson and the trustees have much to ponder in the days ahead.