Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson and the district’s trustees face perhaps the biggest challenge in his nearly 27 months of leadership.

Portrait of GV Wire News Director/Columnist Bill McEwen

Opinion

Bill McEwen

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?

Cell Phone Video from March 20, 2019

— 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.

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 Bullard High teacher

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.

4 Responses

  1. Parent

    This is only one of many on FUSD campuses. Last month, an eigth grade female at Wawona Middle school was beaten and sexually assaulted at lunch break in the open field. No staff supervising the field. Other students came to her rescue. The male student who assaulted her was let back on campus by admin the following day. Good thing her parents called PD and they arrested him on campus.

    Reply
  2. James Mendez

    Bill McEwen,
    I agree that there is a problem with the way the Fresno Unified School District is dealing with disruptive students. I would like to first say that I am not a teacher nor a specialist in childhood behavior, but the current use of suspension, or even expulsion, as punishment for disruptive behavior does not result in the discipline that is needed to improve the student or the school. I also do not think that isolating all the disruptive students in the district in one facility will improve the lives of those students. These students are all young people with their whole lives ahead of them. As a society we can not afford to ignore, isolate or discard these students as not being worthy of our attention as their behavior worsens. While some of them may not be able to be saved from a life of crime, drug use, prison or early death, with proper intervention of professional mental health experts and teachers, I would hope that most of these young people could change, be redeemed and be able to lead productive lives. Punishment is not the most effective tool in achieving long term behavioral changes and improving personal accountability. Our schools, FUSD in particular, that will need to make an investment by developing inclusive programs to save these young people.

    Reply
  3. Marie

    Where are his parents in this matter? School can’t be the only place where he is acting out. Why is it up to the school district to help this kid? Again, where are the parents?

    Reply
  4. Gregg

    Funny…when I went there, they kicked idiots like this over the DeWolf. Tough love is what these kids need. Remove them and put them in a place with discipline and strict rules. Quit pandering to crap like this.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

We've got issues, and we're willing to share
(but only if you want them in your inbox).