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La Jolla Elementary School principal apologizes for email warning parents about a black man at Starbucks

La Jolla Elementary School principal apologizes for email warning parents about a black man at Starbucks
La Jolla Elementary School (U-T files)

The principal of La Jolla Elementary School apologized this week for an email to parents that she says unintentionally perpetuated stereotypes about black people.

Last month, Principal Donna Tripi warned parents in an email about a man who had allegedly stared at and followed a parent’s daughter at a Starbucks. Tripi described the man in her email as “an African American male about 30 years old, about 6’1”-6’2”, dressed in all black and a hooded sweatshirt.”

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The email went on to give parents security tips “to keep your children safe.”

“We’re all hoping it was an isolated incident,” the email concluded, “but reminders are always helpful.”

This week, Tripi sent another email to parents apologizing for her wording, which was so vague that it wouldn’t help anybody in identifying the man but included details that aligned with stereotypes about black people.

“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,” Tripi wrote.

“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.”

While Tripi apologized for her vague description, she still defended the parent’s fears about the man, saying that she’s “confident the concern they described was not imagined” and that the parent was reasonable in believing that the man was following her daughter.

Tripi did not respond to requests for comment.

Of the 535 students enrolled at La Jolla Elementary last school year, five were black, state data show.

The school will host a forum at 6 p.m. Monday “on the ways we can support all families in our school community,” Tripi wrote in her second email. The forum will be facilitated by Omar Passons, an attorney and community leader who recently ran unsuccessfully for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Passons said he reached out to school district officials after he saw Tripi’s first email posted on social media.

“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,” Passons said. “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,” Passons added.

But he said he is satisfied with how the school has addressed the issue.

“Their response was what I would hope it would be,” Passons said.

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Taketa writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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