The Fresno Unified School Board laid to rest two of its more contentious issues in recent history Wednesday night by voting to spend $456,000 to remove the Warrior mascot image at Fresno High and to approve a three-year contract with the Fresno Police Department for campus safety officers.
Several dozen members of a group calling for ending the police contract and others who supported keeping the mascot image were on hand at the board meeting at Bullard High School and expressed their disapproval when when the votes were taken.
Board president Valerie Davis said that current Fresno High students made their choice to change the mascot and are not bound to its history. She sparked shouts of “recall” from opponents of the mascot logo change when she said, “You came from the place you came from — move on.”
Davis was joined by Trustees Carol Mills, Veva Islas, Claudia Cazares, and board Clerk Keshia Thomas in voting for the mascot eradication measure. Trustee Terry Slatic cast the sole no vote, and Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas abstained.
Jonasson Rosas had attempted to persuade her fellow board members to spread out the replacement of items and spend more time examining cost options. She said later that her abstention was over her concern over how the district appeared to be “steamrolling” through the costs of removing the mascot image, as detailed in the lengthy, item-by-item list that Slatic read aloud.
When the board voted in December to keep the Warrior name but change the image, the trustees said they wanted the logo image changed by the start of the 2021-22 school year in August.
Lawsuit Underway, Recalls Threatened
Despite the board’s vote, the issue isn’t going away. Opponents of the mascot change filed a civil suit in May in Fresno County, claiming the board had violated the Brown Act during their deliberations. The suit is scheduled for a July 14 hearing.
And several speakers warned trustees that their votes to move forward with the removal of the mascot image would ignite efforts to initiate recalls.
“If you vote to fund the removal of our beloved Iroquois warrior, you are voting to recall your position on this board,” said Lori Pastre, a member of the Fresno High Class of 1981 who has spoken at nearly every board meeting in recent months. “Your injustices will be exposed, and we the people will eradicate this board of its failing trustees.”
Speakers told the trustees that the money proposed to change the mascot image would be better spent on improving academic performance, which speaker Eric Rollins noted is almost at the bottom among the nation’s large urban school districts, second only to Detroit.
Other speakers suggested the funds would be better used for counseling and mental health services for students, in particular to help them transition back to classrooms after the pandemic.
More Money for Counseling, Not Cops
Supporters of ending the district’s contract with the Fresno Police Department for campus security officers made the same argument later in the meeting — that the millions of dollars that Fresno Unified will spend over the next three years on the police contract would be better spent on programs to assist students.
Jonasson Rosas noted that the district already plans to spend many times the amount of the police contract for counseling, mental health services, and other programs to help students struggling with social-emotional issues. The contract next year will total $1.9 million minus a $332,000 credit to compensate for when police officers’ services weren’t fully needed while schools were closed for the pandemic.
Police Chief Paco Balderrama appeared before the board to note that his department is working with district staff on plans to better track officers’ engagement with students and the outcomes through enhanced statistics.
Giving up the high school contracts would make things easier for the Police Department, which is understaffed, Balderrama said. “But it wouldn’t be the right choice,” he said. “The right choice is to keep schools safe.”
Numerous speakers representing Fresno Barrios Unidos, the Fresno Education Justice Coalition, Power California, and other social justice organizations again detailed how having police officers on campus had made them fearful and affected their education and that of their siblings and classmates. When police can arrest students, it perpetuates the “school to prison pipeline” for students of color — especially Black students — who are much more likely to be cited, suspended, or arrested than other students, they said.
The sole student speaker in favor of keeping police officers on campus was former student trustee Josh Camarillo, who graduated this year from Edison High School. Camarillo said he saw first-hand the close and friendly relationships that many campus police officers have with students, starting when the students are in middle school and continuing through their high school years.
He recalled seeing a student call out to an officer at one event and how the officer’s face “lit up.”
“The joy I saw on the officer’s face is something I will never forget,” he said.
The School Board voted 6-0 to approve the Police Department contract, with Islas abstaining.