White Students at Campbell Park Elementary ‘Should be in the Same Class,’ Principal Emails Staff

Colleen Wright, Tampa Bay Times, April 21, 2017

Principal Christine Hoffman emailed her staff at Campbell Park Elementary a detailed set of instructions on what classroom rosters should look like in the coming school year.

Among her requirements: students with a mix of reading levels, an equal number of boys and girls, no more than two students who frequently misbehave per class and this: “white students should be in the same class.”

That email, sent Tuesday, was forwarded to the NAACP Florida State Conference. It soon wound up in the inbox of Maria Scruggs, president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP.

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Hoffman, who was promoted this year from assistant principal to principal of Campbell Park — a predominantly black school with a history of poor performance in south St. Petersburg — faces disciplinary action from the Pinellas County School District.

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Of Campbell Park’s 606 students, 49 are white. White students make up 10 percent or less of every grade level.

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Hoffman wrote another email to her staff Thursday apologizing for her “poor judgment.” On Friday, she sent another letter home to Campbell Park’s families.

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

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She added in her letter that, although she 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.”

She also sought to explain the controversial passage in her original email, writing: “The guidelines included a statement on assigning white students together, and I explained in the meeting that I was asking that there not be a class with only one white student. I was not asking that all white students in each grade be clustered, as that is not our practice in creating class lists. I understand how racially insensitive the guideline was.”

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The district is in mediation with the plaintiffs of separate federal and state lawsuits, both alleging the district discriminates against black students.

The district also is under at least two investigations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which is looking into allegations that Pinellas disproportionately disciplines black students and doesn’t give them equal access to teachers, curriculum and other resources.

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