What colors will Edison High School be when students return to the southwest Fresno campus in August? It all depends on whether Fresno Unified proceeds rapidly with a painting project that has raised concerns on the part of staffers and prompted an online petition on change.org.
The petition, which had more than 1,600 signatures Monday morning, seeks to “Preserve the Legacy of Edison High School’s Traditional Colors and Student Art Murals.”
The School Board agreed at the June 21 meeting to give Superintendent Bob Nelson or Deputy Superintendent Misty Her the authority to award a bid for the exterior painting, with a preliminary estimated cost of $750,000. The bid award would be up for ratification at the Aug. 9 board meeting.
School staffers say the district’s hurry to get the school repainted before the start of the new school year doesn’t leave time for input from students, staff, and the community. However, the district sought exactly that kind of input when determining the color scheme for the gymnasium addition that opened last fall.
And, the apparent speed-up also raises questions about how the district plans to “move” student murals on the school’s facade on California Avenue. Finally, staffers question whether the district also plans to repaint the new gymnasium addition, which opened last fall and is painted a dark gray with contrasting orange features.
Students, Staff Input Not Sought
At the June 21 board meeting, school officials promised that no action would be taken on the murals without consulting with the artist, Jason Esquivel, and the students who painted the murals in 2020.
Board members were reminded of the firestorm of controversy that erupted after McLane High administrators decided to paint over student murals on the school’s cafeteria without discussions or permission from the student artists.
Nelson and others reassured the trustees that no action on the Edison murals would be taken without first consulting with the artist and the students who painted the murals.
School librarian Stefani Williams, who posted the online petition, and other school staffers told GV Wire that they are concerned about how the district is going about deciding the new color scheme for the school, and who is making the decisions.
Instead of seeking widespread community or professional input, the decisions apparently are being guided by Trustee Keshia Thomas and a handful of community members who have decided that the school needs to be white, with gold and black accents that reflect the school colors, she said.
“The reality is there’s been absolutely no discussion in a community-based manner,” said teacher Jacquelyn Fargano. When Edison was preparing for the new gym addition, there were a series of meetings to consider a number of issues, including color schemes, “which is fantastic, because this is what you’re supposed to do,” she said.
Lauren Lawless, the adviser for Edison’s GSA Club, said her students told her they want to have a voice in selecting a color scheme and in deciding what happens to the murals.
“They’re actually against painting over the murals and painting the school without any sort of community input. They’ve seen time and time again that decisions are made, and nobody asks the people who actually work here and the students who go here what they want and what they need,” Lawless said.
District spokeswoman Nikki Henry said in an email that although the district has provided the opportunity for public comment on projects in the past, it’s not “standard practice.”
“Generally speaking, opportunities for input and engagement are always available through our Board meetings where projects of this magnitude are approved,” she said.
However, the public had somewhat less notice than usual of the Edison painting project, which was added to the revised agenda days before the meeting.
Test painting has already begun at the school. The back of the school’s administration building shows some of the colors being tested, including lighter-colored rafters and a wall that looks more like a light gray or taupe than white.
Williams said she learned at a community meeting that Thomas had organized at the school last Thursday evening that the gold color selected for the rafters matched the gold on a ribbon of a balloon at a funeral. “That was the gold. They find that is Edison gold,” she said. After matching the color at a local paint store, the district facilities department painted several rafters, but the color turned out to be more tan than gold.
The color scheme is determined by the district’s operations team, with feedback from residents coming through their area trustee, Henry said.
Thomas did not respond Monday to questions texted to her.
Her Facebook post last week said the meeting was called to counter “real fake news” about whether the school would continue to be painted with the school colors of black and gold.
The comments included one from Anthony Murphy Sr.: “What about that Ceasar Chavez picture”
At the June 21 board meeting, community activist Debbie Darden referred to the murals, which include images of labor activist Chavez and poet Maya Angelou, as “defacing” the school, a term that particularly roiled Edison school staffers.
Her comments came only a few months after the City Council, over the objections of many southwest Fresno residents, voted earlier this year to rename parts of California Avenue, Ventura Avenue, and Kings Canyon Road as Cesar Chavez Boulevard.
The mural subjects, which were chosen by the students and represent the high school’s two largest cultures, “they’re painting white over,” Lawless said.
Williams said the handful of public members attending the meeting Thomas scheduled on Thursday seemed to focus only on the murals. “Last night it was all about, ‘we’re moving that, right Keshia?’ ‘Oh yeah, we’re moving that,’ ” she said.
“Cut it out? Move it? You can’t do that,” art teacher Michele Mazzei said. “You might as well just call it for what it is, you’re painting over student work.”
Henry said the district has already been in talks with the artist to repaint the murals on another part of the Edison campus.
Esquivel did not return phone calls from GV Wire seeking comment.
Will Paint Contract Include New Gym?
Henry did not respond to a query about why the district was repainting the new gym addition, which opened only a year ago. The $10.9 million project previously was vetted by the School Board — including the interior and exterior paint schemes that included shades of dark gray.
The building’s facade is similar in design to the Academic Classroom building on the east side of the campus. Both were designed by Darden Architects. Williams said the decision to repaint the rest of the school in a medium-gray color about 10 years ago was to tie it to the color scheme proposed for the Academic Building.
Community members told the School Board last month that the gray color makes the school look like a prison.
Williams also questioned whether the school or district has consulted with the contractors now building the new career technical education building.
“Are we going to have to repaint in another year? How much more money do you guys want to spend?” she asked.
Henry said the district does not foresee any impact between the two projects.