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Parents Hire Attorney to Seek Records of Fresno School Reopening Discussions

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A group of parents has hired a local attorney to review public record discussions between the Fresno Unified School Board, Superintendent Bob Nelson, and teachers union head Manuel Bonilla over the reopening of schools and other matters.

A letter addressed to “Fresno Unified School District” from the Fresno law firm Whelan Law Group was posted Monday on the Parents for Re-Opening Fresno Unified Facebook group page with an announcement from the group’s founder, Marcelino Valdez Jr.

“We have retained the services of the Whelan Law Group to investigate potential Brown Act Violations among the School Board Trustees, the FTA and Superintendent Nelson!!” Valdez wrote in the post that contained the public records request letter.

The inquiry is intended to determine if “everything was done by the book,” Valdez told GV Wire℠. If the public records request uncovers any violations, the parents group will then have to decide whether to take further action, he said.

The letter, signed by attorney Brian Whelan, seeks any communications between Nelson and Bonilla, Fresno Teachers Association president, and the trustees and Bonilla concerning the return to in-person instruction, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Safe Schools for All” plan, student attendance and truancy rates for the 2020-21 school year, and the state’s two education finance bills, Senate Bill 98 and Assembly Bill 77.

Whelan’s letter also requests the transcript or text of parent surveys on returning to in-person instruction or continuing distance learning, and communications between Nelson and Bonilla about public participation or comment at School Board meetings.

Whelan was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Latest Request Over District Transparency

The letter is the second to Fresno Unified officials this month from an attorney seeking public records.

On Friday, attorney Ryan Griffith, representing Fresno community members who oppose the School Board’s decision to change the Fresno High mascot logo, sent a letter to Nelson, the trustees, and the district’s constituent services office alleging Brown Act violations and urging officials to set aside the decision.

Fresno Unified had not responded to requests from GV Wire for comment about the two attorney letters by Tuesday morning.

Update: At midday Friday, district spokeswoman Nikki Henry said the district would respond to Whelan’s letter “consistent with the requirements of the Public Records Act.” As for Griffith’s letter, Henry said the district does not comment on pending or threatened litigation.

The Brown Act is the state’s law to guarantee open and accessible government, setting requirements for how meetings are announced and conducted, and how public records must be made available to those requesting them.

After a lengthy public hearing on Dec. 9, Fresno Unified trustees voted 6-1 to retain the Warrior name but to change the Native American image, deemed by many to be racist and offensive. Fresno High students have been deliberating mascot logo options since then.

Supporters of the old logo brought their campaign to Saturday’s reopen schools rally at City Hall.

Supporters of the old Fresno High Warrior mascot logo were at Saturday’s reopen schools rally at City Hall. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)

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