A Principal's Order To Keep White Students Together Is Even Worse Than It Sounds

The district has a long history of alleged discrimination against black students.

A Florida principal in a district accused of discriminating against black students will not return to work at her school after instructing staff that “white students should be in the same class.”

Christine Hoffman, principal of Campbell Park Elementary in St. Petersburg, sent an email to teachers at the predominantly black school on April 18 with guidelines for how to sort students for next year’s classes, including the directive that white students should be kept together.

She later sent a follow-up email apologizing for the mistake, calling it poor judgment.

Hoffman asked to be relieved as principal on Monday, and Pinellas County Schools officials transferred her to district headquarters, granting her request, the following day. She is being investigated by the district’s Office of Professional Standards, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Hoffman will not return to her position at the elementary school, district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf told HuffPost. Wolf declined to provide specifics about the investigation or say whether Hoffman will remain at the district after it is complete. Campbell Park’s assistant principal took over as the school’s acting principal this week with support from another administrator.

“We did not need to have a further distraction with Campbell Park,” Pinellas County schools Superintendent Mike Grego said at a school board meeting. “That move was made not only in the best interest of the school but for the entire community.”

In a letter sent to parents last week, Hoffman, who is white, again apologized and said she now realizes “how racially insensitive the guideline was.”

“I was asking that there not be a class with only one white student,” she wrote. “I was not asking that all white students in each grade be clustered, as that is not our practice in creating class lists.”

But parents and community members weren’t satisfied with her apology, with some calling for her resignation.

“We don’t trust her level of compassion for our kids,” parent Laketta Davis told WFLA News Channel 8. “We don’t trust her guidance for the staff. And I think she needs to resign.”

“As a white woman leading a predominately black school, I am approaching this as an opportunity to learn.”

- Christine Hoffman, former Campbell Park Elementary principal

The incident is particularly egregious in light of ongoing investigations into complaints that the district is shortchanging black students.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the district’s discipline practices in December, after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint alleging racial discrimination.

The district’s black students are nearly four times as likely to be arrested as white students, according to the SPLC ― an especially troubling statistic given the grim realities of the school-to-prison pipeline.

The Department of Education’s civil rights office had also opened an investigation last spring to determine whether the district is denying an equal education to black students. The investigations follow an in-depth report from the Tampa Bay Times in 2015, “Failure Factories,” which meticulously chronicled how five St. Petersburg schools in black neighborhoods have sharply declined since the district abandoned integration efforts in 2007. The district has since started implementing major reforms.

Attorneys with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who are still wrapped up in a legal battle with the district over a desegregation case dating back to to 1964, condemned Hoffman’s apparent suggestion to essentially resegregate her classrooms.

“We are appalled by this reprehensible directive, which only underscores the importance of our continued litigation in Pinellas County,” attorneys said in a statement. “This desegregation case has been going on for more than 50 years, and disturbing incidents like this make clear that discrimination is hardly a thing of the past in Pinellas County schools.”

Maria Scruggs, president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, said at a Tuesday press conference that her organization has received a wave of calls from outraged residents since Hoffman’s initial email was forwarded to her.

Apart from a few special circumstances, “school principals and/or administrators are never justified in using race to classify or separate students,” Scruggs said. “[Hoffman] lacked a basic understanding of what it means for an administration to be colorblind and not favor one class or race of students over another.”

In her own letter to parents, Hoffman seemed to agree with Scruggs’ assessment.

“As a white woman leading a predominately black school, I am approaching this as an opportunity to learn,” she wrote. “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.”

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