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Nelson Tells Edison Student Marchers: ‘Racism is No Joke’



Fresno Unified students protest at district headquarters on Friday, May 6, 2022, over alleged racist social media posts originating at Bullard High School. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)
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The fallout from a social media post of a Bullard student wearing what appeared to be a KKK hood in the school’s weight room continued Friday when hundreds of Edison High School students, led by Black Student Union leaders, marched to Fresno Unified’s downtown Education Center chanting “hold them accountable.”

They were met by district leaders, including Superintendent Bob Nelson, Trustees Keshia Thomas, Veva Islas, and Andy Levine, administrators, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino, other educators, and community members.

A Fresno Unified spokeswoman said Friday morning that district officials were investigating a photo of a student wearing what appears to be a garment twisted into the shape of a KKK hood at Bullard High School.

A photo of a person wearing what appears to be a garment twisted into the shape of a KKK hood at Bullard High is sparking outrage. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

The photo, posted Thursday on 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 appears to be holding up the tip of the garment.

“We are actively investigating, appropriate disciplinary action is being taken for those involved, and we are providing extra supports for students and staff,” district spokeswoman Nikki Henry told GV Wire via email. “There are many meetings happening and have been since we became aware yesterday afternoon. We cannot disclose specific disciplinary action due to student privacy.”

Picture Caused ‘Incredible Amount of Pain, Fear, Anger, and Hurt’

Friday afternoon, Nelson spoke to the community as well as to the assembled students at a news conference when he promised that steps will be taken to hold the students and adults who were supervising them accountable.

“But for anybody within the sound of my voice who wants to shrug that off as a joke or kids being kids, I need to be clear. Cultural destructiveness, racism, and hate are never a joke,” he said as the students cheered. “As you can see from the people surrounding me today, the picture posted on social media has already caused an incredible amount of pain, fear, anger, and hurt across our district and across our community, with kids, adults, and community members alike.”

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 the students involved in the incident, expanding the Race and Social Justice Advisory Board to include a student governing board at each of the district’s seven comprehensive high schools, and collaborating with students and volunteers to develop short-term and long-term action plans to address racism in the district.

Sadly, Nelson said, the photo is not an isolated incident in the district’s and city’s history. Many students he spoke with Friday related to him the hurt and hopelessness they feel.

“The overarching message is they are tired and they’re ready to actively see us move from listening to action,” he said.

Black Student Union Presents Demands

Leaders of Edison’s Black Student Union, who helped organize the march from the southwest Fresno high school, presented a list of demands to the district, including immediate discipline of the Bullard students involved in shooting and posting the photo and the staff who were supposed to supervise them, enrollment of the students in cultural sensitivity training, a formal address by Bullard’s principal to all students on the “cultural disruptive nature of racism,” and hiring more Black faculty and administrators at Bullard.

Levine, who represents the Fresno High region, said that as an Edison High graduate he was proud of the students’ political action and their speaking out on the issue.

To overcome America’s long legacy of racism will require everyone to do so much more, and that includes giving full support to the students, he said.

“You all have the right to be in a system of education where you know every single day and you are affirmed every single day that you belong where you are,” Levine said.

Nelson explained later to reporters that before any significant disciplinary action such as expulsion can be taken, the student would have the right to a hearing.

Afterward, the district provided buses to return the students to Edison, and also handed out T-shirts and bottles of water.

No Racial Overtones to Picture: Bullard Football Coach

Bullard High football coach Don Arax defended the student in the controversial picture saying there were no intended racial overtones to the image. The student, Arax said, was impersonating a ninja before the picture was taken.

“He was doing a ninja dance, whatever that is,” Arax told GV Wire.
However, district spokeswoman Henry said Friday afternoon that district officials are “confident” that the photo was a racially motivated incident.

Edison High School students march from their campus to Fresno Unified’s downtown headquarters on Friday, Mary 6,2022. They protested racial problems in the district and the community. (GV Wire/Liz Juarez)

‘Another Bullard Travesty,’ Says Trustee Thomas

Trustee Keshia Thomas, who represents the Edison High School region, said that she’d been at Bullard since 7 o’clock this morning to talk to students, whom she described as “distraught.”

Thomas said that the district needs to take action not only against the student, but also the adult who is supposed to be supervising the student and others in the Bullard weight room, where the photo was taken.

However, Trustee Terry Slatic, who represents the Bullard region, wasn’t at the high school, according to people interviewed by GV Wire. The trustee, who is under censure by the School Board, isn’t allowed on campus without an escort from the superintendent’s office.

Mother of Bullard Student Says There Are Other Racist Photos

Mitchell, who is the mother of a Bullard freshman, was at the school Friday morning. She said she learned of the KKK hood photo from students who had seen it posted on TikTok.

She took a screenshot of the photo and posted it to her Facebook page.

Racial tensions at the northwest Fresno high school exploded in 2019 after several social media posts surfaced showing a white Bullard cheerleader using the n-word while wearing blackface and also without blackface.

A video of the cheerleader in blackface went viral, leading to parent and community protests, and a series of meetings. Bullard area trustee Terry Slatic attempted to quench further discussion of the incident and its outcomes by other Bullard cheerleaders, who were unhappy that the white cheerleader remained on the squad.

Mitchell said she had heard of 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 on other racist photos posted on social media involving Bullard students.

“It makes our kids hurt,” she said. “If the school and district fail to act on incidents such this, it can lead to more serious acts, including violence and hate crimes,” Mitchell said.

Tight 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 were closed.

A probation officer and a Fresno police officer are helping to man the closed gates to limit public access. Parents dropping off students and running other errands have been allowed to enter.

Jackson said that Bullard Principal Armen Torigian told parents and community members in a meeting Friday morning that the student in the hood was sent home from school on Thursday.

But, Jackson said, Torigian didn’t disclose if other disciplinary actions would be taken against the student.

Substitute Teacher Let Go After Talking About Race

A Bullard substitute teacher who declined to give her name said that she was relieved from her assignment as a history teacher because she talked about race to students this morning.

The teacher, fighting back tears, said she was told by a vice principal that she had been relieved. When she tried to find out what she had done wrong, no one would tell her.

“I worked all over Fresno Unified, it seems like it’s not safe to talk here. It’s been like that for years, but it shouldn’t be like that,“ she said

A screengrab of an Instagram post by the account edison_bsu (GV Wire)

A screengrab of an Instagram post by the account edison_bsu (GV Wire)

A screengrab of an Instagram post by the account edison_bsu (GV Wire)

This story will be updated.

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