Buchanan High held a community outreach meeting the other night. As a member of the community who lives less than a mile from campus, I decided to go.
The parent who told me about the meeting suspected it could be in response to two recent articles in The Bee, a news story and my subsequent column, concerning the two Buchanan baseball players who in 2016 were allowed to keep playing ball though both were accused in a lawsuit of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl – an accusation the Clovis Unified School District knew all about.
Instead, the meeting was about the district’s response to the recent spate of bullying and hate speech as exemplified by leaked messages on Snapchat that included use of the N-word and referring to black people as their slaves.
How widespread is the problem? That’s a difficult question. But the black woman at my table, with two kids enrolled in Clovis Unified elementary and intermediate schools, told me she is considering moving out of the district so they don’t have to experience that sort of nonsense.
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Administrators appear to be doing more than paying lip service to the problem. That day, Buchanan hosted a representative from the Anti-Defamation League who gave anti-bias and anti-discrimination training to teachers, staff and a select group of 40 students who will serve as messengers to the rest of the student body. She then stuck around that evening to repeat the workshop for more staff and parents.
“It’s probably the best day I’ve had on this campus all year!” principal Joe Aiello said.
While racism and bigotry are deep-seated societal issues, I’ll give the district credit for trying to address them head-on. However, it’s impossible not to contrast this response from the let’s-play-dumb-and-pretend-it-never-happened handling of the two Buchanan baseball players accused of sexual assault.
When I wrote that “selective, preferential punishment” has become “part and parcel” with how the community views Clovis Unified, I didn’t realize how right that statement was. Not until the emails and phone calls from parents, staff and former students came pouring in – more than 40 in all.
After listening to these stories, two things became abundantly clear:
▪ The district has enforced “involuntary transfers” on dozens of students accused of Code of Conduct violations much less heinous than sexual assault.
▪ The situation regarding the Buchanan baseball team, as well as the lenient punishment given to Hunter Reinke and Blake Wells, has been an open wound on campus. (We identify the two because they’re now over age 18 and their names are in court documents.) Everyone knew what transpired, and all but a select handful of administrators and coaches are happy the truth finally surfaced.
So how did Buchanan address the subject internally? By applying a fresh coat of whitewash and sweeping the matter further under the rug.
According to multiple sources, administrators held a faculty meeting Jan. 25, four days after my column published. At the meeting, teachers were told former principal Ricci Ulrich (who retired last summer) and baseball coach Tom Donald were unaware of the alleged sexual assault or the names involved until they read them in The Bee. They were told Donald, had he been aware, would not have let Reinke or Wells play that season. And, finally, administration requested the teachers pass along that message to their students.
(My requests to interview Ulrich, Donald and athletic director Jason Gambrell were denied.)
Problem is, no one in the Buchanan community believes any of that malarkey. And if you do, I’ve got some beachfront property on Minnewawa Avenue to sell you.
There are multiple inconsistencies with that version of events. For one, Clovis Unified was made aware of the sexual assault allegations by multiple members of the local media, including Bee reporter Pablo Lopez, well before baseball season started.
So for Ulrich and Donald to be in the dark until now, we’d have to believe the district office either buried the information or conducted its own investigation without informing the principal or coach. Either scenario reeks of negligence.
Furthermore, Reinke and Wells both were disciplined. According to multiple sources, Reinke was suspended for three weeks of baseball season but continued to practice on a separate field while being instructed by a member of the coaching staff. He missed one game. Wells, according to those same sources, missed three weeks of the subsequent football season.
So we’re supposed to believe Donald wasn’t aware of this? Hogwash.
Here’s the bottom line: Clovis Unified knew the seriousness of the allegations, knew the names involved and continued to allow Reinke and Wells to play for a Bears team that won both the Central Section and national titles (the latter awarded by USA Today).
That’s the inevitable truth. Which sends a message to every student and parent in the district that certain people, and certain families, are above punishment.
On the way back to the parking lot following the community meeting, I walked past the statue of Floyd “Doc” Buchanan that depicts the Clovis Unified patriarch holding hands with a student on each side of him. High overhead, on the facade of the nearby administration building, an inscription reads:
THE HOUSE THAT DOC BUILT
Buchanan famously believed in competition and getting students engaged in “co-curricular” activities such as sports. Which is a primary reason the district built sprawling campuses with multiple gymnasiums, expansive fields, swimming complexes and, on this one, a stadium capable of hosting the state track meet.
But Buchanan, who I twice had the pleasure of speaking with before his death in 2015, also believed in accountability. Students need to be held accountable, as do teachers, coaches and administrators.
I’m sure Doc’s successors at the district office would tell you they also believe in accountability. However, it’s evident their definition falls woefully short.