Former Pinellas County principal who sent racially insensitive email now accused of child abuse

Former Pinellas Principal accused of child abuse
Posted at 6:29 AM, Jan 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-29 17:11:12-05

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A former Pinellas County principal who resigned over a racially insensitive email is now facing child abuse charges.

Christine Hoffman, 53, is the school director of Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy in Clearwater, which helps children with learning or behavioral challenges. Hoffman is accused of grabbing a student by his hair and screaming at him for cursing.

RELATED | Principal transferred after 'racially insensitive' comments

The arrest report says that multiple students watched the offense, which occurred on a school bus, and that Hoffman eventually stopped and began saying "I'm sorry" in an attempt to calm the student down. The victim's mother stated that Hoffman called her to apologize for the incident and admitted to her the battery.

Hoffman was arrested on Friday and charged with child abuse.

Following her arrest, she allegedly admitted that she was trying to calm the children on the bus down. When she heard the boy curse, she admitted she "snapped" and grabbed him by the back of the head by his hair. She began yelling at him to sit down and calm down. 

She stated he covered his face with his backpack after she tried apologizing and called the mother later to apologize. 

Hoffman has been at the center of two other investigations. In April 2017, she stepped down as principal of Campbell Elementary after she sent an email to her staff that included 'racially insensitive' comments.

In 2012, Pinellas County school district records show Hoffman dragged a student down the hall "screaming loudly and inappropriately at a student, forcefully grabbing and pulling his arms" at Maximo Elementary School, where she was the assistant principal. The Pinellas County School District said her actions were “appropriate” in dealing with the student "who was known to run from adults" and the investigation was deemed "unfounded."

Parents at Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy are furious to hear about Hoffman's background, amidst the new charges. "You're supposed to be watching my kids and it's supposed to be a safe place and it's not!," exclaimed Amanda Fetzner, whose 4th grade son attends the school. "Why was this lady ever hired into this position?," she added.

Timothy Pleasant, whose son just transferred to the school, is just as shocked. "To me, she shouldn't be around kids," he said with a sigh.

"As a parent, it is not my responsibility to background check the school employees. That burden is put on you. I'm assuming you (the Chi Chi Rodriguez Foundation) did your due diligence, looked into that and hired someone who is qualified and had a reputable background," Fetzner added.

ABC Action News tried reaching Hoffman at her Dunedin home on Monday, but nobody came to the door. 

Meanwhile, a letter sent home Monday from the school informed parents that Hoffman is out on administrative leave. 

ABC Action News has reached out to Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy several times for a statement but has not heard back. A receptionist at the school answered the phone but said nobody was able to give information, then quickly hung up the phone.