An elementary school principal at a predominantly black school in western Florida has requested to be reassigned amid tension over a letter she sent instructing teachers to group white students in the same classroom.
Christine Hoffman, former principal at Campbell Park Elementary in St. Petersburg, Fla., asked to be “relieved” as principal and was transferred Tuesday to the Pinellas County school district headquarters during an internal investigation, the district said in a statement.
Hoffman had come under fire for an email she sent to teachers April 18 about class rosters, in which she stated that teachers should keep an equal number of boys and girls in each class and “white students should be in the same class.” In a follow-up email to staff members two days later, the principal apologized for her “poor judgment.”
“I made a mistake, and I am sorry,” Hoffman wrote.
She then sent a similar letter to the students’ parents.
“As a white woman leading a predominately black school, I am approaching this as an opportunity to learn,” Hoffman 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.”
She added that she was requesting that teachers ensure that there were not only one white student in a classroom.
“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.”
The controversial memo prompted an uproar — parents and outraged citizens called on the local NAACP chapter and a few people protested outside the school, according to local news reports.
“She needs to understand that segregation should not exist in our schools,” Velma Newmon, whose grandchildren will eventually go to Campbell Park Elementary, told Fox 13 News. “She needs to understand that all races should learn equally and it’s sad that they’re only reassigning her. You’re just going to put a Band-Aid on the problem.”
Campbell Park Elementary had 564 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade during the 2014-15 school year; 451 were black and 77 were white, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Current enrollment figures show 606 students.
In a meeting with parents Monday, Hoffman was reportedly asked why she wanted white students in the same classroom. Hoffman told them she wanted the students to be comfortable, parents told the Tampa Bay Times.
Denise Ford, a 53-year-old community member, told the newspaper that parents then asked Hoffman whether the white students had reported feeling uncomfortable in class — and she said no.
“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.”
Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Wolf told the Tampa Bay Times that Hoffman will not return to Campbell Park Elementary. However, it is not clear whether Hoffman will be assigned to another school; Wolf told the newspaper that the district is waiting to make further decisions until it completes the investigation into the matter.
The school district said Hoffman sent a recorded phone message to parents Monday, informing them of her departure.
“Due to recent events, my presence has created a distraction,” she said in the recording, according to the district. “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.”
Maria Scruggs, president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, told Fox 13 News that the situation is reminiscent of “the Jim Crow days.”
“This is systemic because she didn’t think twice about putting it in writing,” Scruggs, who met with the Pinellas County Schools superintendent, told the news station. “She didn’t think twice about disseminating it.”