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. Read More
(Updated at 10 a.m. on 2/28/2023) The fatal police shooting of a man accused of shoplifting sunglasses at Tysons Corner Center last week has local civil rights groups questioning the Fairfax County Police Department’s commitment to enforcing its own policies.
The Fairfax County NAACP wants “an independent, transparent and comprehensive investigation” into the death of D.C. resident Timothy McCree Johnson, who was shot by officers on Wednesday (Feb. 22) during a foot chase that extended a quarter-mile from the Nordstrom where he allegedly stole a pair of designer sunglasses.
In a statement released this morning, the organization says the information shared so far about the incident suggests the shooting was unwarranted based on the FCPD’s own use-of-force policy.
“The tragic killing of Mr. Johnson reminds us once again how unjust America’s policing truly is,” Fairfax County NAACP President Michelle Leete said. “The facts as we know them signal that the officers’ actions were entirely out of step with FCPD’s Use of Force policy.”
The FCPD major crimes bureau is conducting a criminal investigation into incident, while the internal affairs bureau is tasked with leading an administrative investigation, which will be reviewed by the county’s independent police auditor.
The NAACP has set up a Gofundme to help Johnson’s family with funeral expenses.
Effective as of Aug. 12, 2022, FCPD’s policy says deadly force “shall not be used to apprehend a fleeing misdemeanant (unless they pose an imminent threat of serious physical harm or death to the officer or others).”
Notably, the parenthetical is a revision from the prior use-of-force policy that was in place in 2021.
It allows deadly force to be used to apprehend a fleeing person if certain conditions are met:
- The officer has probable cause to believe that the individual committed a felony involving violence, and
- All other means to effect an arrest have been exhausted, and
- The felon’s escape poses a significant threat of serious injury or death to the officer or others.
(Correction: This article previously cited the FCPD’s 2021 use-of-force policy as the current one but has now been corrected to reflect the most recent update.)
“Suspicion of stealing a few pairs of sunglasses without the use or possession of a weapon do not satisfy any — much less all — of [the policy’s] requirements,” the NAACP said. “Whether or not Mr. Johnson was guilty of a crime, he had the right to due process, and for the sanctity of his life to be respected by police officers to the maximum extent possible.”
The NAACP says the police department should release “unedited camera footage” of the Tysons incident, a medical examiner’s report, and the officers’ identities and complaint histories.
FCPD policies dictate that the names of officers involved in a shooting be made public within 10 days and that body-worn camera footage be released within 30 days. Read More
With the D.C. area’s summer heat in full swing, local organizers worry that there are too few options for unhoused residents in the county to cool down.
Last month, the Fairfax County NAACP approved a resolution calling on Fairfax County to improve heat relief services for low-income residents and those experiencing homelessness in the county.
“Summer temperatures and storm frequencies are increasing due to climate change, thus homeless people are at greater risk of health impacts and even death,” says the resolution approved by the civil rights organization’s executive committee on July 28.
Potential solutions proposed by the resolution include a pilot program like D.C.’s heat emergency plan, better communication of hours and locations for the county’s cooling centers, vouchers to families for motel rooms, and distributions of water bottles, personal fans, and sunscreen at government centers.
The Fairfax NAACP general membership unanimously approved a resolution to work with the county to enhance heat relief services to homeless residents in August. At NAACP's request, an assessment of current heat emergency plans will be conducted. Full text: https://t.co/NhVrgAvslF pic.twitter.com/eBekzJr1uu
— Fairfax County NAACP (@FairfaxNAACP) July 29, 2022
In response to the resolution, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Health and Human Services Committee directed the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to provide the county’s current heat emergency plan.
In a memo dated July 29, DHHS listed a number of options available for cooling down. It also agreed to “enhance our efforts” and enact more “immediate action” for the county’s unhoused residents in need of relief from the August heat and humidity:
This work includes addressing transportation access gaps, evaluating both the variety and coordination of supply disbursements (both direct provision and at our cooling sites), considering the use of hotel vouchers in the event overflow shelters are at capacity, and providing a more robust communications plan as well as additional opportunities to provide direct communication outreach to individuals in need.
Additionally, NAACP officials tell FFXnow that a committee will meet tomorrow (Aug. 12) to discuss more solutions and ways to better help those in need.
Mary Paden, who chairs the NAACP’s Fair and Affordable Housing Committee, says she’s encouraged by the county’s willingness to listen and work with the group. But action needs to happen now, considering there are likely plenty of very hot days still left in the summer.
“Many [unhoused residents] are older and sick and are more affected by the heat than a younger, healthier person,” Paden said. “It took deaths for the hypothermia program to get set up in the winter…and you wonder if we have to wait for a death to get really serious about taking care of people in the heat.” Read More
County NAACP Calls for Action on Heat — “It is Too HOT for people to be outside all day and all night. Fairfax County needs to create and publicize more cooling options for homeless and low-income residents NOW. See the full Fairfax NAACP resolution” [Fairfax County NAACP/Twitter]
Stolen Laptops Were Wiped Clean, FCPS Says — “The Fairfax County Police Department has made a number of arrests in connection to the theft of approximately 35,000 laptops from a warehouse. We want to let you know that the laptops had been stripped of all data and their hard drives in preparation for their auction and that, as a result, no student data was compromised in this theft.” [FCPS]
FCPS Students See Progress With Free Online Tutoring — “In Fairfax County, Virginia, the academic backlog became more evident than ever with the complete return of children to the classroom last fall. Students are lagging behind in math, language arts, English, and social skills. The solution? Since April, an online tutoring service has been made available to more than 180,000 students, 25% of whom are Latino.” [DCist]
New Metro GM Takes Charge — “New Metro General Manager Randy Clarke began his role at the transit agency Monday, marking the end of a leadership vacuum that was created during a tumultuous spring…Clarke on Monday said his priorities will be improving service frequency and ensuring customer safety ahead of addressing longer-term goals, such as finances and the agency’s business model.” [The Washington Post]
Fundraiser Up for Family of Woman Killed in Springfield — “An online fundraising campaign was launched to help the family of Evelin Cali, a Springfield woman who was killed in her home on [July 17]. The family plans to use the funds to cover the cost of Cali’s funeral. Fairfax County Police have charged Cali’s husband, Jose Hernandez Mejia, in her stabbing death.” [Patch]
Police Investigate Reston Stabbing — “Around 2:23 a.m., on July 15, two men confronted the victim in the 1800 block of Sycamore Valley Drive in Reston, according to police. One of the men then stabbed the victim in the upper body. The victim was later treated for non-life-threatening injuries.” [Patch]
Swap Plant Seeds at Library in Rose Hill — “Do you have extra seedlings, #Fairfax? On the hunt for different varieties of plants to add to your collection? Bring your cuttings, seeds, seedlings, transplants & garden supplies to our John Marshall branch Saturday for a community plant swap.” [Fairfax County Public Library/Twitter]
It’s Tuesday — Rain starting in the afternoon. High of 81 and low of 73. Sunrise at 6:06 am and sunset at 8:27 pm. [Weather.gov]
The Fairfax County Police Department will release video footage this afternoon (Friday) of a recent incident in West Falls Church where officers pointed their guns at a person who was filming them.
Police Chief Kevin Davis will host a press conference at 2:30 p.m. It was announced almost exactly one hour after the Fairfax County NAACP released a statement urging the FCPD to immediately release all body camera and vehicle dashboard camera footage related to the gun-brandishing incident and fatal shootings in Springfield and McLean.
“We are troubled and deeply concerned by what appears to be a shift to a more aggressive style of policing in Fairfax County — a style that time and time again, leads to needless deaths,” the civil rights advocacy organization said. “Calling law enforcement for assistance should not be a death sentence, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, age, or gender.”
The FCPD released an audio recording on Wednesday (July 13) with the 911 dispatch call for the West Falls Church incident, which occurred outside an IHOP on Saturday (July 9).
Video of the encounter went viral on social media, just days after an officer shot and killed 26-year-old Jasper Aaron Lynch during a mental health crisis call at a house in McLean on July 7.
One week earlier, a 37-year-old man later identified as Christian Parker from Reston died at a hospital on June 30 after a confrontation with three police officers at Springfield Town Center. Two of the officers fired their guns, killing Parker, who was wanted by police for allegedly firing a gun in his home four days earlier.
There have been four police shootings in Fairfax County so far this year, including one in Lorton on Feb. 15 and one of a man reportedly armed with a bow and arrow in Chantilly on Jan. 6.
However, based on FCPD records, Parker and Lynch were the first people killed by FCPD officers since Herndon resident Mohammad Azim Doudzai was shot in January 2017. A dog was also euthanized after being shot by an officer in July 2019, and in October 2019, a man died after an officer fired his gun during a hostage situation in Burke, but police said the fatal wound appeared to be self-inflicted.
In its statement, the Fairfax County NAACP argued that police should speed up the release of video footage, given “the magnitude” of the recent gun-related incidents and their close proximity to each other. The FCPD’s policy is to make body camera and other videos public within 30 days of a use-of-force incident.
“We have received numerous calls and written communications from Fairfax County community members expressing their concerns, and in some cases, outrage. The community deserves answers,” the NAACP said.
Internal investigations into all three incidents are ongoing. The department recently updated its press release from the Springfield shooting to name the officers who discharged their weapons, Officer First-Class Daniel Houtz and Officer Ryan Sheehan.
“PFC Houtz is an eight-year veteran of the Franconia Police District Station and OFC Sheehan is a two-year veteran of the Mount Vernon Police District Station,” the release said. “Both officers were assigned to the Summer Crime Initiative Team. The department will release body camera footage and audio recordings of the 911 call for service within 30 days or when it no longer jeopardizes the integrity of the investigation.”
In a statement released Tuesday (July 12), Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who chairs the county board’s public safety committee, acknowledged the growing community concerns about the “series of high-profile incidents” involving the FCPD. His office will hold a virtual town hall next Thursday (July 21) with police officials, including Chief Davis.
“As community members work to process and understand the events of the past weeks, I remain completely committed to providing the transparency required to ensure trust between our community and FCPD,” Lusk said.
Photo via FCPD/Facebook
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed yesterday (Tuesday) to advance proposed spending adjustments to help its park authority, ArtsFairfax and nonprofits.
County leaders approved the changes at a budget markup meeting, serving as a final step before the board adopts the final fiscal year 2023 budget on May 10.
The approved adjustments to the advertised budget, which was presented in February, include:
- $751,954 and three new positions to support the Park’s natural resources sustainability efforts to help maintain the system’s actively managed acres
- $250,000 for ArtsFairfax to supplement the organization’s existing grant program for the arts
- $825,000 in additional funding for nonprofits to cover contract rate increases for direct health and human service providers
- $6.1 million for a salary increase for certain public safety workers
- Removal of an additional six positions and a decrease of $804,258 in funding that was initially proposed in the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney
“Fairfax NAACP is pleased to see the [Board of Supervisors’] recognition of the importance of parks shared extensively in their pre-markup plan,” Lydia Lawrence, the organization’s environmental and climate justice lead, said in an email to FFXnow.
The park authority had wanted $5 million to reduce financial barriers to certain fee-based amenities, such as golf courses and the RECenters. The $500,000 allocated to the equity program will stay the same as the advertised budget, but the budget markup suggests it could serve as a pilot for possible expansion in the future.
FCPA board members also expressed concern over how changes to a bond referendum cycle could affect capital projects.
“We are glad to see the BOS recommendation to meet FCPA’s natural resource ask,” Lawrence wrote. “While there were no changes to the County Executive’s proposed equity funding and bond movement, we trust the BOS’s commitment in the pre-markup plan to work closely with FCPA and the community to adequately fund FCPA’s future capital improvements and equity projects.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said the board will still support capital projects, such as planned Audrey Moore and Mount Vernon RECenter renovations.
ArtsFairfax President and CEO Linda Sullivan said the arts agency wants to be able to better serve the 200-plus nonprofit arts organizations that are still striving for recovery following the sector’s mass closures, staff reductions and income loss during the pandemic.
“With the County’s additional funding, we hope to reach those organizations who have not benefited from past emergency relief funding, as well as arts organizations who represent historically underserved or economically disadvantaged areas of the County, and organizations who represent cultural traditions that reflect the diversity of County residents,” she said in a statement.
The budget markup process followed three days of public hearings on April 12-14, where community members expressed their opinions on issues from affordable housing to employee vacancies.
Other changes include a reduction in the machinery and tools tax from $4.57 to $2 per $100 of assessed value. Supervisors said that would help small business and economic development.
The budget will also bring changes to employee compensation, county services and tax relief, most notably for real estate and vehicle assessments.
Photo via Fairfax County Park Authority
Fairfax County Public Schools had narrowed its search for a new superintendent down to two candidates — only for one of the reported finalists to drop out of contention last week.
Dr. Cheryl Logan, currently the superintendent of Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska, and Dr. Michelle Reid, the superintendent for the Northshore School District in Washington, were identified as the two finalists for the position yesterday (Sunday) in a statement by the Fairfax County NAACP.
However, the Omaha World-Herald reports that Logan has withdrawn her name from the race for a successor to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who announced in July that he will leave the role, effective June 30.
According to the World-Herald, Logan told Omaha Public Schools staff on Saturday (April 9) that she was no longer participating in the search and had informed their school board a week earlier that she will stay with Nebraska’s largest school district.
Logan, who served as chief of academic support for the School District of Philadelphia before leaving for Omaha in 2018, told staff that joining FCPS would have allowed her to work closer to “my husband, adult daughter and almost all of my extended family.”
The World-Herald’s story does not address why Logan withdrew her candidacy.
“This is a confidential, personnel matter and there will be no further comment,” a spokesperson for the Fairfax County School Board said.
FFXnow emailed Logan for comment but has not heard back as of publication time.
Fairfax County NAACP “very concerned” by other finalist
Logan was the finalist strongly favored by the Fairfax County NAACP, which noted that she would have been the second woman — after Dr. Karen Garza’s tenure from 2013-2016 — and first-ever Black person to serve as superintendent for FCPS.
The local civil rights advocacy organization argued that Omaha’s size and diversity compared to Northshore suggest Logan would be a better fit for FCPS than Reid. The group also cited impressions of the two candidates it said came from members of a community panel appointed by the school board to participate in the nationwide search.
“While recruiting a new superintendent from only school districts as large, diverse, and complex as FCPS would be a challenge given the small pool of similar districts, we are very concerned about the likelihood of success for a new superintendent who has no professional experience in any capacity with a school district of the size and diversity of FCPS,” the NAACP said in its statement. Read More