The fallout from a social media post of a Bullard student wearing what appeared to be a KKK balaclava in the school’s weight room continued Friday when hundreds of Edison High school students, led by leaders of the Black Student Union, marched to the downtown Fresno Unified Education Center chanting “hold them accountable.
They were greeted by district leaders including Superintendent Bob Nelson, trustees Keshia Thomas, Veva Islas and Andy Levine, trustees, Fresno County Schools Superintendent Jim Yovino, other educators and members of the community.
A spokeswoman for Fresno Unified said Friday morning that district officials are investigating a photo of a student wearing what appears to be a twisted KKK hooded garment at Bullard High School.
The photo, posted Thursday to Facebook by Emerald Mitchell, shows the Bullard logo on the floor and has this caption: “Today at Bullard High School in Fresno CA.”
A person mostly hidden behind the hooded figure seems to hold the end of the garment.
“We are actively investigating, appropriate disciplinary action is being taken for those involved, and we are providing additional support to students and staff,” district spokeswoman Nikki Henry told GV Wire via email. “There are numerous meetings going on since we found out yesterday afternoon. We cannot disclose specific disciplinary actions due to student confidentiality.
The image caused “an incredible amount of pain, fear, anger and suffering”
On Friday afternoon, Nelson addressed the community as well as the students gathered at a press conference when he promised action would be taken to hold students and the adults who supervise them accountable.
“But for anyone at the sound of my voice who wants to take this as a joke or kids being kids, I have to be clear. Cultural destructiveness, racism and hatred are never a joke,” he said to applause from the students. “As you can see from the people around me today, the photo posted on social media has already caused an incredible amount of pain, fear, anger and suffering in our district and in our community, with children, adults and community members.”
Nelson said the district’s investigation into the incident is ongoing, but in the meantime officials are preparing to move forward with a number of initiatives, including cultural sensitivity training for students involved in the incident, expanding the Race and Social Justice Advisory Council to include a student council from each of the district’s seven comprehensive high schools, and working with students and volunteers to develop short and long term action plans to address racism in the district.
Unfortunately, Nelson said, the photo is not an isolated incident in the history of the district and the city. Many students he spoke with on Friday told him of the pain and despair they feel.
“The overriding message is that they are tired and ready to see us actively move from listening to taking action,” he said.
The union of black students presents demands
Edison Black Student Union leaders, who helped organize the march from Southwest High School in Fresno, presented a list of demands to the district, including immediate discipline for Bullard students involved in the the shooting and release of the photo and the staff who were supposed to oversee them, the enrollment of students in cultural sensitivity training, a formal address by the Bullard principal to all students on the “culturally disruptive nature of racism and the hiring of more black professors and administrators at Bullard.
Levine, who represents the Fresno High area, said as an Edison High graduate, he was proud of the students’ political action and speaking out on the issue.
Overcoming America’s long legacy of racism will require everyone to do much more, and that includes fully supporting students, he said.
“You all have a right to be in an education system where you know every day and are affirmed every day that you belong where you are,” Levine said.
Nelson later explained to reporters that before any significant disciplinary action such as expulsion could be taken, the student would be entitled to a hearing.
Afterwards, the district provided buses to take students back to Edison, and also distributed T-shirts and water bottles.
No racial connotation to image: Football coach Bullard
Bullard High football coach Don Arax defended the student in the controversial image saying there were no intentional racial connotations in the image. The student, Arax said, was posing as a ninja before the photo was taken.
“He was doing a ninja dance, whatever,” Arax told GV Wire.
However, district spokeswoman Henry said Friday afternoon that district officials were “confident” the photo was a racially charged incident.
Edison High School students march from their campus to Fresno Unified’s downtown headquarters on Friday, 6,2022. They protested racial issues in the district and community. (GV Wire/Liz Juarez)
“Another parody of Bullard”, says administrator Thomas
Administrator Keshia Thomas, who represents the Edison High School area, said she had been at Bullard since 7 a.m. this morning speaking to students, whom she described as “distraught”.
Thomas said the district needs to take action not only against the student, but also against the adult who is supposed to be supervising the student and others in the Bullard weight room, where the photo was taken.
However, administrator Terry Slatic, who represents the Bullard area, was not in high school, according to people interviewed by GV Wire. The trustee, who is censored by the school board, is not allowed on campus without an escort from the superintendent’s office.
Bullard student’s mother says there are other racist photos
Mitchell, who is the mother of a Bullard freshman, was at school Friday morning. She said she heard about the KKK hood photo from students who saw it posted on TikTok.
She took a screenshot of the photo and posted it on her Facebook page.
Racial tensions at Northwestern High School in Fresno exploded in 2019 after multiple social media posts surfaced showing a white Bullard cheerleader using the n-word while wearing a black face and also without a black face.
A video of the black-faced cheerleader has gone viral, leading to protests from parents and the community and a series of meetings. Bullard Area Administrator Terry Slatic attempted to stifle discussion of the incident and its results by other Bullard cheerleaders, who were unhappy that the white cheerleader remained in the team.
Mitchell said she heard about the blackface cheerleader incident before enrolling her son last fall, but didn’t realize it happened at Bullard.
Mitchell said the district and school should have taken action earlier this school year over other racist photos posted on social media involving Bullard students.
“It hurts our children,” she said. “If the school and district don’t act on incidents like this, it can lead to more serious acts, including violent and hate crimes,” Mitchell said.
Enhanced security on campus
Candice Jackson, whose cousins attend Bullard, said she arrived at 7:30 a.m. to make sure she could get on campus before the gates closed.
A probation officer and a Fresno police officer help monitor closed doors to limit public access. Parents dropping off students and doing other errands were allowed in.
Jackson said Bullard principal Armen Torigian told parents and community members at a Friday morning meeting that the student in the neighborhood was expelled from school on Thursday.
But, Jackson said, Torigian did not disclose whether further disciplinary action would be taken against the student.
Substitute teacher lets go after talking about race
A Bullard substitute teacher who declined to be named said she was relieved of her assignment as a history teacher because she spoke to students about race this morning.
The teacher, fighting back tears, said an assistant principal told her she was relieved. When she tried to find out what she had done wrong, no one told her.
“I’ve worked all over Fresno Unified, it seems like it’s not safe to talk here. It’s been that way for years, but it shouldn’t be that way,” she said.
Screenshot of an Instagram post from the edison_bsu account (GV Wire)
This story will be updated.