Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Campbell Park principal's email to staff: 'White students should be in same class'

Christine Hoffman said her guideline was “racially insensitive.”

Christine Hoffman said her guideline was “racially insensitive.”

ST. PETERSBURG — 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.

"I'm not usually at a loss for words, but I can tell you when I saw that email for the first time, I thought it was a joke," Scruggs said on Friday.

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. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits schools from segregating students "on the basis of race, color, or national origin in making classroom assignments."

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

Hoffman's email did not explain why she wanted white students in the same class. She did not mention other racial groups at the school, either. Campbell Park has 20 Hispanic students, 18 multiracial students and three Asian students.

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."

Before coming to Campbell Park in 2012, she worked as an assistant principal at Maximo Elementary, another predominantly black school in south St. Petersburg.

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."

School District spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said Hoffman's supervisor, Patricia Wright, is developing a corrective action plan.

Wolf said it is not the district's practice to assign classes by race.

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.

Hoffman's original email "rings that it was a very comfortable thing for her to do," said Scruggs, the NAACP president.

"It appeared she was doing it for some kind of protective measure is what it came across," Scruggs said. "That's a bigger issue if that was the case."

Gloria Ladson-Billings, the Kellner Family Distinguished Professor in Urban Education and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, called Hoffman's email "baffling."

If the principal wanted to ensure white students were not isolated, "she made an assumption that students' racial identities were the only affiliations important to them," Ladson-Billings said.

"A better way of assigning students might include asking the students which of their friends would they like to be in their classroom next year or . . . a hypothetical question such as, 'If you could only invite one person from your class to a party at your home who, would you invite?' " she said. "Analysis of these responses will tell you a lot about who students admire and/or affiliate with."

Ladson-Billings added, "The principal might be surprised at how many cross-racial friendships have developed at her school."

Times staff writer Cara Fitzpatrick contributed to this report. Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

Campbell Park principal's email to staff: 'White students should be in same class' 04/22/17 [Last modified: Saturday, April 22, 2017 12:56am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Roosevelt Blvd closed at I-275 after truck hauling crane hits overpass


    ST. PETERSBURG — A truck transporting a construction crane hit the Interstate 275 overpass at Roosevelt Boulevard Tuesday.

  2. Pasco students, 12 and 15, faces weapons, threat charges


    Two Pasco County students from different schools were arrested Tuesday after one brought weapons onto campus and the other threatened a shooting, according to sheriff's deputies.

  3. It's official: Hillsborough high schools move to 8:30 a.m. start time, elementary schools to go earlier


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County high schools school will be in session from 8:30 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. starting in 2018-19, the School Board decided Tuesday in a 6-0 vote.

    The Hillsborough County School Board has decided to end a compressed bus schedule that caused an estimated 12,000 children to get to school late every day. Under the new schedule, high schools will start at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m. Elementary schools will start at 7:40 a.m. and middle schools at 9:25 a.m. [Times files]
  4. NFL players, owners hold 'constructive' talks on issues


    NEW YORK — NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, a session Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross called "constructive" and Colts defensive back Darius Butler termed "positive."

    A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on Tuesday in New York City.  Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing.
 [Getty Images]