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Critics Say Bullard Mishandled Response to Student's Racist Posts
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 2 months ago on
February 20, 2024

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A Bullard High School student was disciplined after an investigation found the student posted racist comments on social media.

Black students and a parent say the school’s initial response was to try to cover it up, which Bullard’s principal denies.

It’s the latest of a series of incidents of racism involving Bullard students.


Fresno Unified School District recently took “appropriate” disciplinary action against a white Bullard high school student who was accused of using racist language in an Instagram chat shared with fellow students, according to a district spokeswoman.

But parent Brittiney Booker said she’s convinced that the school would have swept the matter under the rug if she and others had not been insistent that officials take some action.

GV Wire is not identifying the student’s gender or age to protect the student’s privacy.

Bullard Principal Armen Torigian denied that there was any attempt to cover up the incident. He said that it took time for him to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter.

Booker said that when the student’s racist comments were first reported to school administrators, they were unaware of them and also of the growing student unease.

Bullard junior Brittain Chaney, who is vice president of Bullard’s Black Student Union, told GV Wire that she thinks Torigian is a “decently okay principal” who leads with authority.

“But his handling of campus culture is poor,” Chaney said in a text message. “Racism is almost and sadly a normal thing in the world and even in schools or communities. … Problems that Mr. Torigian has is his inability to handle these situations, even as a POC (person of color), people figure he would understand and he hasn’t.

“He claims, ‘that it makes him feel uncomfortable to talk about such situations.’ Yet you are a principal of a school with students of different race backgrounds who can experience racism on a daily basis in their own community,” Chaney said.

Torigian, however, said he never told students that he feels uncomfortable having such conversations. “What I did say is that we (society) need to feel more comfortable having these conversations,” he said in a text. “I have no problem having these conversations, why I called the meeting with BSU.”

Black Students Want Support from School

Cenayah Booker, also a junior and a member of Bullard’s BSU, said the school’s lackluster response to ongoing racism by students makes her sad and also leaves her feeling that the school doesn’t have her back.

“It’s actually really hard thinking I’m going to be targeted every day coming to this school,” she said Tuesday.

After the comments surfaced on Instagram, text messages between the student and another student seemed to indicate that the student had been told by Torigian to post that the Instagram chat had been hacked.

“Yeah I didn’t want to post that but Mr. T made me,” the student said in a text, of which a screenshot was shared with GV Wire.

A separate text conversation between Torigian and the other Bullard student appears to confirm that Torigian did instruct the student to post a “blurb” on the racist Instagram story and post. A screenshot of that conversation also was shared with GV Wire.

That, Cenayah Booker said, made her and other students feel like Torigian was trying to cover up the incident. “So it makes it feel like Mr. Torigian as a principal, he’s not protecting us,” she said.

She said she doesn’t believe that the student’s recent racist posting was a mistake or a hack, especially since one of the posts attributed to the student says “now the world knows how I feel.”

Disciplinary Measures Not Disclosed

Cenayah’s mother, Brittiney Booker, said she had heard that Torigian initially overruled a vice principal’s decision to suspend the student, but that the student ultimately received a two-day suspension.

Cenayah Booker said students were told by administrators that the student would be kicked off athletic teams, but that didn’t happen.

District spokeswoman Nikki Henry confirmed that the district had conducted an investigation and that “appropriate” disciplinary measures were taken. She said she could not discuss the allegation that Torigian initially tried to cover up the incident and not discipline the student.

“We can’t comment on student disciplinary action,” Henry said.

No Cover Up

Torigian said that he began his investigation the next day after learning of the social media posts that went up the proceeding evening and that involved members of a Spanish class. Details of the chat were leaked to other students who brought it to the attention of school and district officials, he said.

Tracking down and speaking with the students, including the student accused of the racist comments, took some time, and Torigian said he wanted a complete picture and needed to speak to a number of people before reaching any conclusions. That deliberate pace may have looked to some as if the matter was being delayed, he said.

As for kicking students off of teams, Torigian said those decisions are up to the team’s coach. But students who face disciplinary measures can be subject to 14-day athletic suspensions under the California Interscholastic Federation code of conduct, he said.

Moving forward, Torigian said, the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion administrators will be working with the restorative justice counselor to create appropriate educational lessons.

Discipline Is Disparate

Brittiney Booker said Bullard students also are concerned at how school administration disciplines students, typically meting out more punishment for fighting than for racist language.

“The kids are mad. They’re like, ‘so what you’re telling us, fighting is worse than saying anything racial. … That’s the wrong message that you’re sending,'” she said.

Brittiney Booker said she was contacted by an outside investigator, Cliff Hinch, who apparently had already received notes prepared by members of Bullard’s Black Student Union about the school’s teachers.

Cenayah Booker said that while some teachers will listen thoughtfully to students’ concerns, others “listen, but it goes right out the other ear. And that’s really how it is with all the administration. We tell them something and it just goes right out the other ear.”

School Board President Susan Wittrup, who represents the Bullard region on the board, said the district and the community need to do a better job of addressing racism and educating students and staff.

“Racism in our schools is a direct reflection of the racist attitudes, behaviors, and actions in our community at large,” she said in an emailed statement to GV Wire. “Until we collectively confront racism as parents, educators, and leaders, without trying to cover it up, we will continue to see these incidents in Fresno schools.

“It starts first with fearlessly acknowledging incidents of racist language and behavior followed by repairing harm and changing behaviors in order to rebuild trust. I take this responsibility very seriously. Until every Black student feels valued and respected in our schools, it doesn’t matter what else we are trying to teach.”

Previous Incidents at Bullard

Bullard High has a history of racist incidents in recent years that have roiled the community and sparked national headlines.

In 2019 a video surfaced on social media showing a white cheerleader in blackface using racist language, sparking a massive outcry.

The ACLU later filed a complaint with the district, alleging that the district was allowing a racially hostile environment to continue at Bullard and that the school had failed to protect two Black students from bullying and retaliation. The ACLU also alleged that the school and district had continued to disproportionally discipline Black students with suspensions and expulsions.

In May 2022, the campus exploded when a video surfaced on social media portraying a student wearing what appeared to be a KKK hood in the weight room at the high school. Students at Bullard and Edison walked out of class and gathered at the downtown Education Center to express their outrage.

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Nancy Price,
Multimedia Journalist
Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email

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