ACLU Files Complaint on Behalf of Black Students at Fresno Unified Bullied and Harassed by Blackface Video

School district fails to protect students from ongoing racial abuse

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SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed a discrimination complaint under the Uniform Complaint Procedures (UCP), on behalf of two black Bullard High School students in the Fresno Unified District, for failure to comply with the California Education Code and Fresno Unified School Board’s requirements pertaining to racially hostile environments and bullying. The UCP covers alleged violations by local educational agencies and local public or private agencies that receive funding from the State to provide any school programs, activities, or related services.

Both students named in the complaint, A’mya Wilson and Elana Henderson, were victimized by two videos made and posted by a white Bullard High student. One video included blackface and the use of the n-word and the second video also used the n-word. Ms. Wilson no longer attends Bullard and Ms. Henderson plans to leave soon. The student who created the video still attends Bullard and appears to have not faced any repercussions for her actions.

This most recent incident at Fresno Unified is part of a pervasive pattern of racism and anti-blackness in the Fresno Unified School district. In an initial response to this incident, the ACLU submitted a letter in June 2019 to the Board President and other Trustees reminding them of the many times the ACLU and other community partners have had to intervene on behalf of black students and parents for similarly abhorrent and racist behavior that remains unchecked. The district has yet to offer an adequate response to the ACLU or the other community members who attended the school board meeting.

“Filing this complaint is a necessary next step,” said Abre’ Conner, a staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “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.”

When Ms. Wilson reported the blackface video to the proper school officials, district officials publicly made her complaint known, and created an aggressive environment for her that included bullying and harassment, which forced her to transfer out of Bullard. By ignoring the severity of the impact of the videos, District officials made a mockery of her complaint and declined to take it to a level worthy of administrative action.

“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,” said A’mya. “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.”

Ms. Henderson regularly witnesses non-black students who are comfortable saying the n-word around campus, particularly white students. Reporting these incidents that make black students feel uncomfortable at school has subjected her to a racially intimidating environment through the callous nature of the administration. Given how poorly the district has handled the blackface incident and other forms of racial terror, Elana does not want to attend Bullard anymore. In effect, the district’s failure to support black students is pushing her out of the school. 

“I’m hurt that the school has not created an environment that makes me want to continue to attend," said Elana. “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.”

This complaint asserts several legal claims including violation of several policies including: failure to properly respond to the anti-black racist videos by affirmatively acting in opposition to its own policies and the California Education Code; retaliation for filing complaints in violation of the United States Constitution; failure to investigate the blackface videos and address the Bullard community for weeks after the blackface video posted in violation of its policies regarding racial harassment. By creating an antagonistic, anti-black environment, the removal of black students from the district has been hastened and is often exacerbated by the disproportionate discipline Black students experience. 

In order to remedy these egregious conditions, the complaint calls for the following changes:

  • The District will foster a community of teachers and administrators that are knowledgeable about child development and are culturally competent and sensitive.
  • The District shall create a survey to acquire the demographics of a person when they apply for positions in the District.
  • The District should create a Black student taskforce that can help create and inform policy changes that create a safer environment for Black students.
  • The District shall have dedicated Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) funding for programs, resources, and opportunities for Black students.
  • The District will develop and implement a plan that contains strategies, objectives, and timelines to accomplish the remedies described above, and ensure that the District complies with applicable federal and state law.


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