Education Lab

FUSD trustees Islas and Thomas want colleague Slatic to apologize for altercation at Bullard

Two Fresno Unified trustees want colleague Terry Slatic to apologize for an altercation with a student on the Bullard High campus on Jan. 11.

McLane-area Trustee Veva Islas and Edison-area Trustee Keshia Thomas said they’re also concerned about comments Slatic has made since, including statements to the media Thursday in which he alleged the student in the video has been involved in a number of other on-campus incidents.

“These comments were made to demonize and villainize the student in order to justify behaving in this manner,” Islas said Friday. “We can have our opinions and disagree as trustees, but this is so shameful. These comments are appalling.”

Slatic did not return a request for a response Friday, but said in his Thursday statement that sources at Bullard had told him that the boy had assaulted a P.E. teacher and a campus safety assistant, and led armed officers on a chase through campus in March. He also said that Bullard principal Carlos Castillo and other district leaders had failed to get counseling and resources for the student long before the Jan. 11 event.

District spokeswoman Amy Idsvoog said that the descriptions were not accurate.

Slatic’s comments could be a violation of federal law protecting the release of information on minor students, according to Thomas. Islas said she’s concerned that Slatic is not only accessing private records to glean that information, but that he has been interviewing teachers who allege having run-ins with the 15-year-old – not to get the boy help but rather to build a case against him.

“We have to discuss what is appropriate for a trustee,” Islas said. “And this is overstepping.”

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Fresno Unified trustees voted into office in November 2018, from left: Veva Islas, Keshia Thomas and Terry Slatic. Fresno Bee file

Questions of privilege

Islas and Thomas said they felt compelled to speak out in order to ensure that the student has an advocate.

Had this been an affluent student with connections to the Bullard community, there would have been public outrage,” Islas said. “Details in the video tell us a lot. His parents are notably absent. That tells us a lot.”

The student told a private investigator that he was on campus after school for Super Snack, a free meal served by the district, which Islas said is another indicator of the boy’s socioeconomic background.

Thomas questioned the privileges she said Slatic has been afforded in the case. The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office said it’s not filing any charges related to the incident. And a private investigator hired by FUSD to examine the case noted that Slatic reviewed surveillance video.

“If this was a 6-foot-5 black man that came onto campus and did something like this, he would have been taken away in handcuffs,” Thomas said. “He would not have been allowed to look at the footage after. None of this would have played out this way.”

Islas and Thomas said they take no issue personally with Slatic. The three are all newcomers to the board, having been elected in November 2018. Both Islas and Thomas said they enjoy working with the board as a whole and will continue to work cohesively on future agendas.

But Islas said that she is disappointed in Slatic’s refusal to own his mistake and apologize as much as his decision to escalate the situation with the student rather than sitting with and mentoring the minor.

“Safety was his platform, but he is not appreciating that he is now an insecurity,” Islas said.

Thomas said that meeting with the young man and employing restorative justice practices would be a good step forward for Slatic.

“We’re not always sure what they’ve encountered, what they’ve seen the night before, and that’s why we have to be empathetic in our approach,” Thomas said.

The district did agree to investigate the incidents Slatic outlined in his statements, but no other next steps are in the works.

Board members had previously said they would wait until the conclusion of an internal district investigation to decide on whether a censure is warranted, something Islas and Thomas said they are open to given the seriousness of their concerns.

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Aleksandra Appleton covers schools for the Fresno Bee. She grew up in Fresno before attending UC San Diego and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.