An elementary school principal in California is under fire after allegedly warning students’ parents of a black man in a Starbucks, according to reports.
Donna Tripi, principal of La Jolla Elementary School in San Diego, said last month that a man, only described as black and in his 30s, had leered at a little girl who is a student at the school, according to an email obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Dear Parents, This morning, a parent came to see me to report an incident that she experienced at a local business yesterday,” the email began. “She was with her two children patronizing the business when an African-American male about 30 years [old], about 6’1”-6’2”, dressed in all black and a hooded sweatshirt began staring at her daughter."
Tripi said the mother left the business, but that the “man left behind her and followed her across the street."
“The parent was proactive, ensuring that she went to a place where other people were present before getting her car and leaving the area," Tripi wrote. “I am communicating the incident so that you can take appropriate steps to keep your children safe. The manager of the establishment has been made aware of the incident.”
Tripi urged parents to keep their children within eyesight and within reach when in public, to be aware of their surroundings before getting into their cars and to find a public place if they believe they’re being followed.
“If you see something that doesn’t feel right, report it to the non-emergency police line,” Tripi wrote as she included the phone number. “We’re all hoping it was an isolated incident, but reminders are always helpful.”
Shortly after the letter was made public, Tripi was criticized for perpetuating stereotypes about black people.
“I am an African-American man who’s a little bit shorter than 6’1”, but I’ve been in workout clothes and a hoodie in La Jolla after working out,” Omar Passons, a black attorney and community leader who recently ran unsuccessfully for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, told the Union-Tribune. "The description that was included in the email was just really, really general. It’s humiliating to be in that position where you look at somebody and see fear in their eyes for no reason."
Tripi emailed parents again Wednesday to apologize for her description of the man, calling her original email “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,” she wrote in the email, which was also obtained by the Union-Tribune. “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."
She noted the school will hold a forum on Monday at 6 p.m. regarding the matter and to discuss how to "support all families" at the school. The event will be facilitated by Passons, who told the Union-Tribune he was so far satisfied with the school’s response.
“Their response was what I would hope it would be,” he said.
But others took issue with the fact that Tripi maintained the parent’s fears were valid in her second email, as she wrote that she was “confident the concern they described was not imagined."
“This apology is as disturbing as the original email,” André Branch, president of the San Diego Branch of the NAACP, told the Union-Tribune. “She repeats the description of the man, mentioning his race, but not that of the parents or the children. This repetition reinforces the idea that the parents and their children have something to fear from African-American men.”
Branch said he believed the man’s skin color generated the fears expressed by the parent, saying: “They have no more to fear from African-American males than they do from white males in hoodies or white males in suits and ties. If their concern had nothing to do with this man’s race, it would not have been mentioned."
Last fall, 535 students were enrolled at La Jolla Elementary School. Five of those students were black, state data showed. Out of the 31 teachers employed at the school, 28 were white, and none were black, the state data showed.
InsideEdition.com has reached out to La Jolla Elementary School for comment. Tripi did not respond to the Union-Tribune’s requests for comment, the paper reported.