Bullard High School Coach Don Arax fired back this week at Fresno Unified Trustee Keshia Thomas over her accusation that he had used a racial slur to her middle son when he was a Bullard student and football player.
Arax said he would welcome a “thorough” investigation into the accusation, which Thomas made Tuesday on “Unfiltered,” the public affairs program hosted by GV Wire publisher Darius Assemi that’s live-streamed on Facebook.
The show’s focus was racism in Fresno Unified School District and a recent social media post picturing a Bullard student in a head covering that resembled a Ku Klux Klan hood. The post sparked outrage, student walkouts and marches, and pressure on the school district to expel the students involved.
On the show Thomas said her son, now 23, “goes to football practice where he has Arax calling him a (N-word), and he decides he’s not playing for Bullard anymore.”
‘You Can’t Last in This Profession if You’re a Racist’
Arax, who previously rejected Thomas’ accusation outright, told GV Wire on Thursday that in his 37 years of coaching, he has never heard a white coach use that word.
“You can’t last in this profession if you’re a racist,” he said in a text message. “… It’s so preposterous a claim that I hesitate defending myself. But silence is not a good option either.”
Arax went on to call Thomas a “liar” and added, “If Keshia Thomas wants a fight, she can bring it on. In her 3 years on the Board she hasn’t done a single thing for kids of color. This is all theatre for her.”
‘I Have No Reason to Lie’
In response, Thomas did not back down from her accusation.
“First and foremost I have no reason to lie,” she said in a text Friday afternoon to GV Wire. “I’m sure my son and his friends who were on the team would be willing to make a statement seeing as they are graduates and he is no longer a threat to their education.”
As for Arax’s comment that she hasn’t done anything for students of color, Thomas said that her work as a trustee has benefitted those students and includes her support for the district’s African American Academic Acceleration (A4) program and advocacy for the hiring of Black principals and administrators, her opposition to “systemic racist policies,” and her support for students who have been the victims of racism.
“It is understandable that a person who cannot tell the difference between a Ku Klux Klan hood and a ninja mask would not understand all the ways that I have advocated for Black children. For him to even question my efforts is an affront and an insult that frankly doesn’t even deserve a response,” she said.
Arax and others have said that the Bullard student’s headgear was intended to be a ninja mask, not a KKK hood.
Thomas, who said her comments would be the last from her on the issue, said Arax is “completely unfit to be in this discussion, and he is a distraction to well intentioned people and efforts. It would be in his interest to treat students well, be present in the weight room so this never happens again, find them scholarship opportunities, (refrain) from referring to them in a demeaning manner and cease comments on this topic as well.”
Arax told GV Wire that he left Bullard at noon that day, had a speaking engagement at the Armenian Men’s Club, and did not return to the school that day.
Fresno Unified’s investigation includes whether the students were being supervised in the weight room, and if so, by whom. The photo that was posted to social media was shot in the weight room after school.