Protest planned for Thursday after TVUSD teacher says she was racially profiled

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Valley News/Will Fritz file photo

Some Temecula Valley Unified educators are planning a protest at Red Hawk Elementary School this Thursday after a teacher at that school said she was confronted outside the site in an incident she believes was motivated by race.

The incident took place the morning of Friday, Aug. 14, as Tiffany Suetos, a physical education teacher, was taking pictures outside Red Hawk Elementary to prepare her bitmoji classroom ahead of the all-online start to the school year.

It was Suetos’ first time on Red Hawk’s campus, she said — she has worked as a P.E. teacher at nearby Helen Hunt Jackson Elementary for a few years and now works at both school sites.

She said the vice principal and custodian of the school had shown her around campus, and she was at a wall displaying class mascots before walking down to one of the school’s fields.

That’s when Suetos, who is Black, said she was confronted by a couple who lived nearby.

“I spent 15 minutes maybe at the wall, then I walked down to the field to take pictures of the field to add to my bitmoji classroom, and so as I’m taking pictures of the field, I hear some yelling but I don’t really pay much attention to it,” Suetos said.

She said her phone was about to die, so she tried to hurry taking pictures before she was interrupted.

“The yelling is continuous, so I turn around and I see this lady coming out of her house walking and yelling at me, and she’s like: ‘You need to leave. What are you doing here? Why are you taking pictures of houses? Who are you?’” Suetos said. “And then her husband comes out, and he’s like: ‘Lady get out of here.’”

Suetos said the couple repeatedly asked her whether she was a teacher at the school, to which she responded that yes, she was.

“He said ‘I know all of the teachers, you need to leave,’” Suetos said, “and his wife is like, ‘yeah you need to go and then I just left, and I walked to the custodian and then I just started crying and I was like at this point I couldn’t even believe this was happening, and he consoled me and I just lost it.”

Suetos said she did not take any pictures of the couple; attempts by Valley News to identify and locate them have been unsuccessful.

She said the school’s vice principal later confronted the couple, and that she was interviewed by a school resource officer later that day.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday confirmed an officer had responded to the incident — TVUSD’s school resource officers are Riverside County sheriff’s deputies — but said a record of the incident “made no reference to harassment” and no report was written.

Suetos said she was flabbergasted as to why she possibly could have been confronted, other than due to race.

“I’m a P.E. teacher, my back is facing their house, so I’m not taking pictures of their house, I have my tripod and my iPad — there’s nothing about me in broad daylight that makes me look like a burglar,” Suetos said. “The sad thing is, deep down in my heart I know if I was another P.E. teacher that happened to be white, it would have been different.”

She later contacted Temecula Valley Unified’s superintendent, and her email was shared around on local social media groups. Suetos said she was reluctant to share her story publicly, but was encouraged to do so by her husband.

“It’s sad in so many ways, and I wasn’t even going to share this with anyone,” Suetos said, “but my husband pushed me to, because it’s not OK.”

Some TVUSD educators were planning to protest in front of Red Hawk Elementary at 4 p.m. Thursday — and Suetos said she was heartened by their support.

“It’s been comforting to know that, one, people recognize that this does exist, and two, that they are 100% standing by — they are completely standing by me,” Suetos said.

District officials confirmed the incident had been brought to their attention.

“TVUSD is aware of the reported incident,” TVUSD spokesperson Laura Boss said on Monday.  “We are currently working through the appropriate investigation process and awaiting receipt of the report from our School Resource Deputy.”

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.