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Bullard Coach Files Defamation Claim Against Trustee in Racial Slur Allegation

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Bullard Coach Don Arax, left, alleges he was defamed by Trustee Keshia Thomas in a claim filed with FUSD. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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Bullard High football Coach Don Arax has filed a claim for damages in excess of $10,000 against Fresno Unified School District, saying that Trustee Keshia Thomas defamed him when she accused him of using racial slurs to students, including her son.

The claim has been added to this week’s Fresno Unified School Board agenda. As is typical for claims filed with the district, the administration is recommending that the claim be denied and referred to the district’s executive director of benefits and risk management for “further handling.”

Thomas said Monday she had not yet seen the claim and could not immediately comment.

Arax said Thomas’ claim that he used a racial slur toward her middle son, which she made on GV Wire’s “Unfiltered” last month, was untrue and slanderous. That son never attended Bullard, and “Don Arax never called him (or anyone) the ‘n’ word,” the claim said.

Also untrue, the claim said, was Thomas’ allegation in a letter to Bullard principal Armen Torigian that Arax then subsequently tried to interact with her younger son at the school. In the letter, she references “the way Mr. Arax refers to black boys.”

The claim said that Thomas, who represents the Edison region, had initially accused unnamed Bullard staffers of using racial slurs and expressing racism and hatred toward Black students at a Bullard High staff meeting on May 6.

On that day, students from Bullard and Edison walked out of classes in protest of a photo posted on social media of a Bullard student in the school’s weight room wearing a white head covering that for many people resembled a KKK hood.

‘Immediate’ Discipline Sought

The photo created a firestorm of controversy and protests, including calls for the students involved to be expelled and staff to be disciplined for their failure to supervise the students.

The district conducted its own investigation of the incident. Although the outcome was never publicly released, community members said they believed the teens involved were being railroaded into expulsions. The district then commissioned an outside investigator to conduct a second investigation.

The claim, filed by Arax’s attorney Brian Whelan, alleges that Thomas has animus toward members of Arax’s family that intensified after his brother, Mark Arax, made a presentation to the board in 2021 in support of renaming Forkner Elementary School after H. Roger Tatarian, a veteran newsman and one of the city’s most prominent Armenian-Americans.

Mark Arax’s presentation included information that J.C. Forkner, the school’s namesake who was a leading developer in Fresno, was a racist who sold homes on the now-illegal covenant that people of color, including Armenians, be barred from purchasing them.

The board subsequently voted to take Forkner’s name off the school and replace it with Tatarian’s.

In a video entitled “Social Justice School Board Fails Social Justice Exam,” “Ms. Thomas can be seen responding with contempt and ridicule — with an obvious anti-Armenian subtext,” Don Arax’s claim alleges.

 

Arax Claim

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