ACLU files complaint against Fresno Unified regarding black face incident

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California on Thursday filed a complaint against Fresno Unified School District alleging the district failed to comply with state requirements pertaining to racially hostile environments and discriminated against two students the legal organization calls victims in the Bullard High black face incident.

The ACLU said in a statement that racist behavior in the district remains “unchecked.”

The ACLU submitted a letter to Fresno Unified this summer reminding district officials that community activists had to intervene on behalf of black students and parents. The district never responded, according to the ACLU.

“Filing this complaint is a necessary next step,” said Abre’ Conner, a staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, in a statement. “The district must put a stop to the hurtful and harmful racist behaviors that black students endure from students and staff members at Fresno Unified. Their inaction on these serious incidents perpetuates a system that excludes the black student community and is nothing short of negligence.”

Amy Idsvoog, a spokesperson for Fresno Unified, said the district just received the complaint and it would be premature to comment until district officials fully reviewed it.

Two junior varsity cheerleaders in May posted videos to Snapchat in which one white girl wore black face and said the n-word. The incident sparked a domino-effect of controversies that the district still is dealing with, including a recall effort against the elected Bullard-area trustee, Terry Slatic.

The ACLU is representing two girls who received the Snapchat video.

One of them, A’mya Wilson, originally reported the video to school officials. She later faced bullying and harassment and eventually transferred to another school. The ACLU said that district officials ignored the severity of the impact of the videos and made a mockery of Wilson’s complaint.

“I am sad that I can no longer attend a school where I hoped to get my high school diploma, but standing up against racism is also important,” Wilson said in a statement. “Black students deserve to attend a school where they have teachers and staff who care about making black students feel safe. I don’t feel that my safety as a black student was considered, and that is not OK.”

The other student represented by the ACLU, Elana Henderson, said she regularly hears non-black students at Bullard High use the n-word, according to the ACLU. Black students who report those incidents feel uncomfortable and are subjected to an intimidating environment and the “callous nature of the administration,” the ACLU said.

Henderson no longer wants to attend Bullard High.

“I’m hurt that the school has not created an environment that makes me want to continue to attend,” Henderson said in a statement. “I’m ready to leave because I feel that being a black student at Bullard is not welcomed by my teachers and other staff members.”

The ACLU’s complaint lists a number policies it alleges Fresno Unified violated, which creates an “anti-black” environment. The complaint also calls for a number of changes the district should enact, including creating a demographics survey for job applicants, creating a black student task force and dedicating funding for black student resources.

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.