SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Nearly 200 people packed the auditorium at La Jolla Elementary School Monday night to discuss the issue of racial profiling following an email sent out by the school’s principal last month.
The topic was brought to the spotlight following a controversial email from Principal Donna Tripi in September. The email warned about a suspicious man at a local business that allegedly stared at and followed a parent and her child.
The incident was reported to the principal by a parent, and in turn Tripi forwarded the parent’s account to the rest of the school. The email gave safety tips, but it also described the man as African-American wearing a hoodie, along with an approximate age and height.
Tripi’s first email had been shared online several times and drew criticism from some several parents as well as some community leaders and groups claiming the description was so vague it made African-American men a target.
Tripi went on to apologize for the email.
At Monday’s meeting with parents, Tripi again apologized. She said she unintentionally perpetuated racial stereotypes with a vague description of the man at a Starbucks store.
“The political correctness people, the PC police, are usually run amuck, but this isn’t that,” explained Omar Passons, who along with the principal and the school district, helped facilitate Monday’s meeting.
Passons went on to point out several policies that some agencies have implemented. For example, some do not describe suspicious people’s race and gender, unless more specific descriptions accompany it.
Other parents came to the meeting to stick up for Tripi. They say in an era of “see something, say something” the principal had the children’s safety in mind and that’s what mattered.
Jason Iuli-Kinsey, whose son goes to La Jolla Elementary, said that while he understands why the letter upset some people and that he’s glad the principal apologized, he emphasized that safety should be everyone’s top priority.
“I’m happy she did it because it put all of us on some sort of watch,” he said.
Despite the differing viewpoints, many who left the meeting were satisfied with the discussion, calling it a good first step in starting a difficult and sensitive conversation.
Read Tripi's full email apology:
As a school community, we pride ourselves on being open to difficult conversations on anything that stands in the way of our students' success. It is time for one of those conversations.
Last month, I emailed you after two parents expressed concern over a man who they reasonably believed started following one of the parents and her two children out of a Starbucks and across the street. I relayed the description of that man, as he was described to me, an African American male, about 30 years old, about 6'1" tall, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, along with the limited details I was given about the incident.
My email was a mistake. While it is critical to keep our school family safe, the way I communicated didn't provide enough specifics to identify the individual, but could easily lead to unnecessary and harmful reactions against other members of our community.
African American males continue to face discrimination in our society every day. The thought that I unintentionally contributed to that climate with a vague email is something for which I owe our community an apology.
More than this, I would like to invite you to a conversation on the ways we can support all families in our school community next Monday, October 22nd, from 6:00 - 7:00 p.m. in the school library, facilitated by Omar Passons, attorney and community leader. I recognize that we have families in our community who have been hurt by my communication -- and some who may have unintentionally had stereotypes reinforced that our schools do not want to perpetuate.
I spoke to the parents directly and am confident the concern they described was not imagined. We want parents to be vigilant, but as a leader, I also want our school community to be a place that doesn't cause preventable harm. There is room for a productive dialogue among all members of our community. I hope you'll join us.
I hope that through dialogue we can move towards a common understanding of one another and heal any harms. Please make time to join us if you are available. Thank you.
Donna S. Tripi, Principal