A principal at a predominately Black elementary school in St. Petersburg, Fla., has asked to be reassigned amid backlash over a email she sent to teachers instructing them to group white students together in separate classrooms.
Christine Hoffman, former principal at Campbell Park Elementary, was relieved of her duties Monday, April 24, and transferred to Pinellas County Schools district headquarters pending an administrative review of the incident, district officials said. District spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said Hoffman requested the off-campus transfer herself and wouldn’t return to the school. It is still unclear if the embattled principal will be assigned elsewhere.
Hoffman sparked outrage earlier this month after she emailed school staff about classroom rosters for the upcoming school year. In the April 18 email, the now-ousted principal stated that teachers should keep an equal number of boys and girls in each class, and that “white students should be in the same class” with one another. Hoffman’s questionable instructions were followed by a second email to staff apologizing for her “poor judgement.”
“I made a mistake, and I am sorry,” Hoffman wrote.
A letter was also sent home to parents on Friday inviting them to a parent-principal meeting scheduled for Monday, April 24, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
“As a white woman leading a predominately Black school, I am approaching this as an opportunity to learn,” the ex-principal wrote in the letter. “Although I have participated in training on diversity and implicit bias, this recent incident makes it clear that I need to seek additional opportunities to apply racial sensitivity and cultural competence in my work. I want all of my actions and decisions as principal to only strengthen and unite our school as we meet the needs of our students.”
Outraged parents and community member have since called for Hoffman’s resignation, but eyewitnesses at the meeting said she refused and boasted that she was “the best thing that has happened to Campbell Park.”
Denise Ford, a 53-year-old community member, told the Tampa Bay Times that when parents pressed Hoffman about why she suggested white students be separated from African-American students, Hoffman responded that she wanted the white kids to feel comfortable. She tried to clarify this in her letter to parents, claiming she was only trying to ensure that there wasn’t only one white student in each class.
“I was not asking that all white students in each grade be clustered, as that is not our practice in creating class lists,” Hoffman wrote. “I understand how racially insensitive the guideline was.”
When parents asked if any white students or their parents had come forward to say they felt uncomfortable being among Black students, Hoffman said no. Parents also grilled the principal on why she made no efforts to ensure the comfort of Asian, Latino and biracial students.
“The parents said that, as Black people, we are used to being the only Black person in the classroom and no one is making sure we are comfortable,” Ford told the newspaper. “The parents were not accepting of any excuse. We accept your apology, but you have to go.”
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics showed that Campbell Park had 564 students in pre-k through fifth grade during the 2014-15 school year. Of those students, 451 were Black and 77 were white.
Maria Scruggs, president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, told Fox 13 News that the whole situation made her feel like she was back in the “Jim Crow days.”
“This is systemic because she didn’t think twice about putting it in writing,” Scruggs said. “She didn’t think twice about disseminating it [to staff].”
Campbell Park Elementary School’s Assistant Principal, Dawn Lewis, will serve as acting principal with help from Transformation Zone Assistant Director Yvette Pilliner, according to an e-mailed statement from the district.
Hoffman also left a recorded voice message for students and their families Tuesday announcing her departure.
“Due to recent events, my presence has created a distraction,” she said. “As a result, I’ve requested to transfer and allow another person to lead this school. This was a very difficult decision for me. The Campbell Park community has become part of my family and I want all of our students to be successful.”