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Email sent to Oakton HS cheerleading coach suggests racist culture, NAACP says

Oakton High School (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County Public Schools plans to hire an investigator to find the source of an anonymous email that decried the idea of a “colored individual” coaching Oakton High School’s cheerleading team.

Referencing former coaches from the past two years, the email was sent to the school’s current cheerleading coach, Jillian Domenech, shortly after she took over the position in March, as first reported by WTOP.

Domenech reported the email to administrators, but the school’s technology staff was “unsuccessful” in identifying the sender, Oakton High School Principal Jamie Lee told the community in a message on May 8,

“FCPS works hard each day to create a school environment where all students and staff are valued and feel accepted and supported,” FCPS said in a statement. “We condemn all hateful behavior. FCPS has attempted to establish the origin of the email as part of our own internal investigation. Unfortunately, we have been unable to do so. Moving forward, we intend to retain a third [party] investigator to delve further into this matter.”

News that FCPS plans to initiate an external investigation into the email comes after two months of inaction, the Fairfax County NAACP said in a news release today (Wednesday) calling for an outside, independent investigation.

According to an excerpt shared by the civil rights organization, the email sender claimed to be speaking on behalf of “many” parents and students who “would not feel comfortable with another colored individual coaching cheerleading at Oakton.”

“While this may be seen as racist or having a prejudice against certain races of people, the last two years have shown that this is just not something that has worked out,” the email said. “Our school and history of coaches have been predominantly white. Many of the girls were shocked to see another coach last season with such dark and strong features.”

According to WTOP, the email specifically referenced former co-head varsity coach Faith Dabrio and her predecessor, who are both African American. Dabrio told WTOP that she was unaware of the email until a parent contacted her about it last week.

Dabrio described the culture of the cheerleading team as “welcoming” but felt a lack of support from the school administration when handling “internal drama,” which culminated in a social media threat by a student that contributed to her decision to step down in November.

The Fairfax County NAACP says its education committee has been communicating with FCPS about the email, but those conversations have only “yielded ever more entrenched efforts to obfuscate and deflect blame, rather than to accept the reality of the situation and deal with it effectively.”

“The more time that passes where children are subjected to a threat of unknown origin and unknown magnitude, the greater the danger to their physical and emotional well-being,” the organization said, stating that the message suggests a “racist culture” within Oakton’s cheer team.

The NAACP also requested that it be allowed to see the full results of FCPS’ investigation, citing “the danger this email poses to current students, the failure of FCPS to act with urgency, and the long-standing culture of racism referenced in the email.”

In her message to the community, Lane said she “recently” met with students on the cheer team and their parents to “reiterate that Oakton High School stands united against all forms of hate, racism, and discrimination,” a sentiment for which they expressed full support.

WTOP reported that the meeting was “sparsely attended” with about 20 people, citing a source who requested anonymity.

Lane’s full message is below:

Good Evening Oakton Community,

At the end of March, an anonymous email was sent to our new cheer coach. This email contained racist and hate-filled language and ideologies. The coach reported the email to me and our Director of Student Activities. Our technology staff tried to identify the sender but were unsuccessful. I then collaborated with the FCPS Chief Equity Officer, the Region 1 Assistant Superintendent, and other FCPS central office staff to consider an appropriate response.

I recently met with cheer team parents and student athletes to reiterate that Oakton High School stands united against all forms of hate, racism, and discrimination. The cheer team parents, and student athletes stand 100% with this sentiment. The letter below was sent to all members of the Oakton cheer team. I am sharing this with our full community because I want to reassure each and every student, family member and staff, that Oakton remains a safe and welcoming place for all.

 

Sincerely,

Jamie S Lane, Principal

#WEAREOAKTON