A high school cheer squad in Virginia’s largest school district has been rocked by an anonymous racist email that praised the team’s new coach for not being “another colored individual coaching cheerleading.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, former Oakton High School cheer coach Faith Dabrio, a Black woman, and her mother Stacey Stevens said the mysterious letter was initially sent to head cheer coach Jillian Domenech at the end of March. However, Dabrio, who quit coaching with the team after the football season ended in 2022 but still maintains connections with some of the families, said cheer families didn’t find out about the email until May 1 when Oakton Principal Jamie Lane contacted them.
“This email contained racist ideology and discriminatory language directed toward previous coaches, and implied that a person’s race and/or cultural background would determine whether they would be a good fit for Oakton High School,” a copy of Lane’s letter, provided by Dabrio to The Daily Beast, read.
Lane’s letter also said cheer families were invited to an “optional meeting” on May 2 to discuss the anonymous email, but Stevens said a parent told them that only “10 percent” of the cheer parents attended.
“You didn’t espouse this,” Stevens said of Lane, “but you didn’t make the meeting mandatory for parents.”
On May 8, Lane sent a similar letter to the entire Oakton High School community about the anonymous email, saying she had met with the cheer community 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. …I want to reassure each and every student, family member and staff, that Oakton remains a safe and welcoming place for all,” the letter said.
Lane said technical staff members had tried unsuccessfully to determine who sent the anonymous email. In a statement to The Daily Beast, Fairfax Public Schools said they now intended to “retain a third party investigator to delve further into this matter.”
Dabrio provided a copy of the lengthy, hate-filled, anonymous email to The Daily Beast.
“Hello Coach Jillian and welcome to Oakton,” the letter read. “We are happy to have you. …Many of us 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. 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.
“[Coach Faith] was very nice and spoke professionally at all times but culturally she and the coach before her I was told were not a good fit for Oakton and they both were of African American [descent].
“Our fear is that the history of Oakton cheerleading will be tarnished and remembered with conversations of ‘peo[p]le’ who destroyed something that so many people worked hard for.”
The email continued to say Oakton’s increasing diversity was beginning to change the school’s culture, but the writer said they had faith in Domenech maintaining the status quo since she was an alumna.
“Thank you for returning and hopefully you can make Oakton Cheer great again!” the email ended.
Dabrio, who said she was first alerted to the email by a cheer parent rather than the school, said she cried after reading it. (Eventually, a school administrator did reach out to Dabrio on May 11 to “see how [she was] doing.”)
“I was very upset. The color of my skin does not affect how I do my job and how I coach,” she told The Daily Beast. “I was disgusted to think that an individual would hit ‘send’ on this and think that it was OK to do.”
Dabrio said she never felt that there was any tension between her and the girls on the cheer squad, but she did recall a time when one of the girls threatened to fight her. Stevens said her daughter experienced a number of challenges with the team and some parents.
“I was outraged, but I wasn’t surprised,” Stevens said.
Dabrio said some of the girls on the squad reached out to check on her after the news of the email circulated.
“I know this is not the view of them,” she said of the cheerleaders. “Those kids love what they do…and I love what I did. And once again at the end of the day, my skin color does not define how I do my job.”
Domenech did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment Wednesday.
In its statement to The Daily Beast, Fairfax Public Schools said the district “works hard each day to create a school environment where all students and staff are valued and feel accepted and supported.”
“We condemn all hateful behavior,” the statement said.