The Red Flags of Our Meeting with the Superintendent Eric Hoppes


KatieAnn Nguyen 

As people are well aware, the racism at West County High School has been absolutely unacceptable. The recent events are evidence of that, with the racist promposal and so much more—and these are just the ones that have been talked about. 


On Friday, April 8th, a promposal was spread across social media. A caucasion girl was holding a notebook up in the WCHS parking lot. On the notebook, there was a promposal that read: “If I was black I’d be picking cotton but I’m white so I’m picking you! Prom?” 


The promposal sparked outrage from the WCHS community as students quickly told one another and shared it on social media with each other. The blatant disrespect for the black community on this campus from that promposal was repulsing. The sheer horror from knowing that someone on this campus had such privilege to believe that it was okay to do such a thing, absolutely sickening. That promposal revealed something that for far too long has been ignored: racism on the West County High School campus was being normalized to such an extent that people thought it was okay to do such abominable things.


In regards to the promposal, the WSCUHSD interim superintendent, Eric Hoppes, issued an apology to only parents. His apology was apathetic, privileged, and harmful towards the BIPOC community. Instead of being apologetic towards the BIPOC community at WCHS for having to go through such outright discrimination, he asked the BIPOC community to be forgiving of these actions. Not only that, but he brushed this promposal off as if it were simply a mistake on the part of a teenager. This was not a mistake, those words were intentional and that action was made willingly. His apology felt as if he was only writing it in order to please others. It felt forced and an attempt to quickly remedy the situation as well as protect the individual who had committed such a clear act of racism. 


Outraged and disappointed in his apology, I sent Eric Hoppes an email using the template posted on the WCHS Activists Instagram page, which addressed the normalized racist culture here on campus as well as making this campus a safe space for all students by removing the Native Sons of the Golden West plaques. I sent him the email on Monday, April 11th, and a day later he responded to me asking for an in-person meeting to “understand [my] point of view better.” The first red flag was that out of all the students who had emailed him that exact same email template, he had only asked for a meeting with me. In addition, a friend of mine, Dylan Peña, that I have been working closely with to address the racism on campus, had emailed him on Friday, April 8th addressing the language used in his apology, but had not been asked to have a meeting with him. 


In the beginning, the meeting was just supposed to be between Eric Hoppes and me, but I decided to bring Dylan who had emailed him before me as well. It was unsettling and concerning to me that out of all the emails of that exact email template that he had received, he only asked me for a meeting as well as didn’t set up a meeting with Dylan when he had emailed him first. That was the first red flag. 


The second red flag was when both Dylan and I walked into our principal’s, Mrs. Ferdinandson’s, office for our meeting at the beginning of third period on Wednesday, April 13th, and she was not in the room. It was concerning because we were in her office and she wasn’t present, when she was usually present for these meetings. It was just the superintendent, Dylan, and me in her office for our meeting. 


What I was expecting at the very beginning of the meeting was an apology from Eric Hoppes in regards to the language he had used in his apology that he sent out on Friday, April 8th. We did not begin the meeting with that. Instead, he started off by asking me to tell him a little bit about myself. Startled and caught off guard, I gave a brief introduction: my name, my grade, my future plans, the clubs I was a part of. When he asked me to introduce myself, I thought that this was what he meant. I was wrong. The third red flag was what he said next. He said something along the lines of, “Now, can I ask you, and I don’t mean to offend you, but what is your ethnicity?” 


Wary, I told him that I was half Hmong and half Vietnamese. He nodded his head when I said that, paused and then asked me, “You said you were Hmong right? Do they have a country?” That was the fourth red flag. He showed insensitivity and ignorance right from the beginning, and I would like to say it couldn’t get any worse than that, but it did. 


After I finished answering his invasive questions, he turned to Dylan and asked him to give a brief introduction as well. Dylan gave him a general introduction just as I had, and after being prepared from the questions Eric Hoppes asked me, also told him his ethnic background as well as where he was from. The fifth red flag and the biggest red flag of all was what he asked Dylan next. After Dylan had finished, Eric Hoppes said, “So are your parents citizens? Are you a citizen?” 


He then turned to me and asked the same questions. Both Dylan and I were shocked. We were entirely caught off guard and unprepared for his interrogative questions. His questions were an invasion of privacy, disrespectful to us as individuals, and outright uncomfortable and alarming for an educator of all people to be asking. It felt as if he was doing a background check on us, as if we had done something wrong and he was interrogating our history to get something on us. It should’ve never been a question in the first place, and it was alarming to us that he had thought it was an acceptable question to ask at all. It signified ignorance, privilege, and insensitivity on his part, and those attributes were concerning as he was our interim superintendent at the time, in a position of power at the school. 


The sixth red flag, and one that I didn’t notice until both Dylan and I had a debrief on the meeting later, was his extreme interest in me specifically. Some of the questions he had asked me were ones that he didn’t ask Dylan at all, like what schools I went to before West County High School or if I was connected with my culture. One point that was particularly concerning was that he knew that I wrote articles for West County World, which he would’ve never been exposed to or have read if he didn’t actively go out of his way to find them. It was as if he had done some research on me prior to having our meeting. 


After we finished answering his questions, Eric Hoppes gave a brief background about himself. He went on to talk about being retired and having previously been a principal in Petaluma. The abrupt switch felt as if he was intentionally evading the whole purpose of the conversation. For both Dylan and me, the purpose of the conversation was to talk to him about his apology that he sent out and how harmful its language was. We had the intent of bringing up these racist incidents on campus with him and asking how he’d address them going forward. However, the whole meeting felt like an interrogation and background check on the both of us instead. He was prying into our personal lives, lives that the two of us had never even told our close friends about. It was as if his whole purpose was simply to find out every single detail about us. 


Towards the end of the meeting, we briefly got to what Dylan and I thought was the whole purpose of it: his apology. He told us that he had sent that apology out in order to help the situation and that he didn’t realize that we’d take offense to it. The outright ignorance he displayed was painful, because it felt like no matter what we said, he wasn’t understanding why his apology was wrong in the first place. 


At one point in the meeting, he said that the school should take a more forgiving approach, instead of constantly being angry about all these racist incidents happening on campus. To a certain extent, I can agree that constantly being angry won’t change anything. However, just outrightly forgiving people for every racist thing they do will not change anything either. We’ve done that, we’ve been forced into doing the forgiving approach, even now, we’re still forced to do that, but here we are with nothing having been changed, even with Jeremiah Chass in 2007 or the Mack family lawsuit in 2017. That comment felt like he was telling us that we were making a big deal out of nothing, that we should just take things as they are and move on. That was the seventh red flag. 


At the end of the meeting, he told us that he’d work to implement some changes by talking more with Mrs. Ferdinandson, but that there were no promises as he was only an interim superintendent. The eighth red flag was how he walked with us to the main entrance to end our meeting, instead of having it end in Mrs. Ferdinandson’s office. 


Later that day, he sent an email to us saying that he “enjoyed meeting [us],” “look[ed] forward to meeting again and working on things,” and that he “will be in touch.” There was no sense of remorse or apology for the invasive questions he asked or the outright interrogation that the whole meeting was. In fact, he seemed proud of the fact that he asked to meet with us in the first place, proud that he was willing to talk with us at all. 


It wasn’t until at the board meeting later that day when a student called him out on his questions of citizenship to both Dylan and me that he realized his fault. While I did not witness it, I have heard that Hoppes publicly apologized at the board meeting on Wednesday later that night. In addition, Dylan said that Hoppes personally came up to him and apologized as well, saying that he’d like to meet us again to actually come up with solutions. His apology, from what I’ve heard, sounded forced and as if someone else had pushed him to apologize. It is simply disappointing to me that while he apologized, he wasn’t aware of his faults until someone called him out publicly for it. As he was an educator, it is even more disappointing to know that he thought that he was in the right, and that it never occurred to him that the questions he were asking were an invasion of privacy. 


Dylan and I left that meeting feeling violated, like our own personal safety had been infringed upon. That meeting made the both of us feel that West County High School was no longer a safe space to be, that we both had targets on our backs, that we had lost a piece of ourselves. There are no words to describe just how traumatic, alarming, ignorant, and discriminatory that meeting was.  


Eric Hoppes may have resigned Friday, April 15th, but the damage has been done. Nothing that he can do will ever make what he did to both Dylan and me any less traumatic.