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Fresno Trustee: District Covers Up Racial Intimidation, Needs Special Commission

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Fresno Unified Trustee Keshia Thomas speaks at a news conference Monday regarding racial intimidation in Fresno Unified. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)
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Fresno Unified Trustee Keshia Thomas charged Monday that Fresno Unified’s administration has covered up incidents of racial intimidation, and she called for a special commission to investigate the district’s response to such incidents, “specifically surrounding intimidation through white supremacy.”

(Watch) Edison and Bullard students stand against Racist posts

Thomas, standing on a sidewalk outside the Edison High School parking lot and ringed by Edison and Bullard High students, trustees Valerie Davis and Andy Levine, Superintendent Bob Nelson, other area educators and community members, said the district’s actions to date have been insufficient at stopping racist behavior and actions.

Thomas said the district’s complacency in investigating and taking action against racial intimidation has allowed it to continue, including last week’s photo of a Bullard student wearing a face and head covering similar in appearance to a Ku Klux Klan hood and online posts containing racist images of Black students.

Additional social media posts have surfaced since last week, including an Instagram account with photos of Ahwahnee Middle School students and staffers that are meant to degrade them, she said.

Later Monday, Nelson confirmed to GV Wire that an allegation was made anonymously via a sign at Friday’s student walkout that a Bullard employee uses the N-word when talking to students.

“We are following up on that,” Nelson said.

District Investigation Underway

The district is investigating the Bullard photo to determine whether to take disciplinary action against the student who was photographed in the school’s weight room, wearing what appeared to be a T-shirt around his head that a student behind him and pulled up to a point similar to a KKK hood.

The student and his parents reportedly were at Bullard on Monday to speak with school administrators. On Friday at a news conference at FUSD’s downtown headquarters and again Monday at Edison, students demanded that immediate disciplinary action be taken over the incident that district officials have concluded was racially motivated.

The district has said the student is entitled to the same protections afforded all students facing disciplinary actions.

Racism occurs across the district, Thomas said, and isn’t limited to just Bullard. But the northwest Fresno high school has been connected with numerous well-publicized incidents, including a video with a so-called “blackface” cheerleader who was the topic of national headlines three years ago.

But even though the School Board subsequently passed a resolution declaring Fresno Unified an “anti-racist institution,” racism continues to be perpetuated on students and staffers alike, she said.

Incidents Continue at Bullard

Why hasn’t the district done more to combat racism in the past three years since the cheerleader incident?

“We are not letting things be swept under the rug as we find out about them,” Thomas said. “We can only do about things that we know about. If we don’t know about it, we can’t do it.

“So being completely open and honest about everything is going to be really important during in this process, and it’s going to be a hard truth. It’s not going to be easy because many things we don’t see, and we think everything is great. And then it happens and we say, ‘Where did that come from?’ But none of us are surprised about the acts of Bullard.”

Bullard student Elana Henderson said she was disappointed that no teachers or administrators took the time on Monday to ask how she was feeling or what she was thinking after the photo of the Bullard student surfaced. Likewise, fellow students at Bullard had mixed reactions Monday, student Tyree Bree said, noting that some reached out but others just laughed.

Elana was one of two students named as victims in a discrimination complaint filed by American Civil Liberties Union in 2019 against the Fresno Unified School District in connection with a video posted by a white Bullard student that involved blackface and the use of the n-word.

‘Today We’re Going to Start Digging Deeper’

Rev. Booker T. Lewis, the city of Fresno’s liaison for the southwest Fresno community, said his office will stand behind Thomas and will continue to push the district and superintendent for change, so that the next generation of students doesn’t have to continue experiencing racism that he says is worse in Fresno that in Greenville, Texas, where he was born.

“We have relationships with them. We’re going to take full advantage of our relationships to encourage them to dig deeper,” Lewis said. “You know, we did a little bit three years ago. We did a little bit a few years ago before that. No. Today we’re going to start digging deeper because apparently what we have been doing is not working.”

Lewis told GV Wire later that it’s too soon for Mayor Jerry Dyer to become involved in the complaints about pervasive racism in Fresno Unified.

“Not yet,” he said. “This is a district issue, and I think in the new Office of Community Affairs, which I’m a part of, this is an issue facing the BIPOC community. And I think my involvement is his involvement. And I’ll certainly brief him on my opinion.”

BIPOC stands for Black, indigenous, and people of color.

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