California cheer team calls for removal of schools chief after Black mannequin scandal

Attorneys and parents of the California High School stunt team are calling for the removal of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District superintendent after photos emerged of a predominantly white squad posing with what appeared to be a Black mannequin head.  The superintendent had called it a "racist" mascot in a letter to parents. 

At a news conference Thursday in front of district headquarters in Danville, one mother and her lawyer presented a cease-and-desist letter to Supt. John Malloy, demanding his removal "for his reckless perpetuation of false claims of racism and his endangerment of children."

"I’m here today to clear my daughter’s name, restore her reputation, and most importantly her safety," said the mother, who did not provide her name.

The mother, representing the "cheer family," also wants a security detail for the cheer team and an independent investigator to get to the bottom of the mannequin scandal. 

A Bay Area cheer team seen posing with a dark-skinned mannequin.

The parents wanted their demands met by 5 p.m. Thursday. 

When a Black mannequin head photograph first appeared on an Instagram account called "The Black Bay Area" in mid-May alongside the mostly white cheer team, Malloy called the image "intolerable," "offensive" and "racist."

The squad had also referred to the head as "Kareem," according to the Instagram post. 

However, the attorney representing the cheer team claimed that the photo had been doctored to make the head darker than it actually is and denied that the team used that name for the doll. 

Lawyers for the parents said the young women on the cheer team felt insulted after the letter was issued and people started calling them racists at school. The IG account tagged the cheer squad on Instagram, which has now been made private.

Yet no one has publicly stated how this image got to the Instagram page, or who sent it to The Black Bay Area.

A mother of a cheer member said the picture posted wasn't even this year's team. 

The lawyers representing the cheer team are saying the photo is the result of a "disgruntled mother" whose Black daughter didn't make the team – despite many questions about how that could have occurred. The lawyers also allege that the mannequin photo was manipulated to be darker.  

The Dhillon Group lawyers who are representing the cheer team shared another photo of cheerleaders with the mannequin that appears lighter than the one which prompted the superintendent's letter. The attorneys say the mannequin is sold on Amazon under the name Karine, not Kareem as was claimed in the Instagram post.

The lawyers want the superintendent to be held accountable.

In an email sent May 31, the Dhillon Law Group of San Francisco – headed by Harmeet K. Dhillon a former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party – put both Malloy and principal Megan Keefer "on notice" regarding their "despicable, malicious, and damaging conduct towards innocent children."

The letter was written by attorney Karin M. Sweigart. 

In an interview with KTVU, Malloy said he didn't take the demand for him to quit personally, indicating that he would not step down. 

And he again reiterated the fact that he wants all his students to feel safe and acknowledged that now, many do not. In hindsight, he admitted, he could have done a better job of not hurting the feelings of the cheer squad, too. 

Still, Malloy stood by his decision to issue that letter.

"As a school district that’s committed to inclusivity, our goal is to be sure that no one feels harmed by anything that exists in our community, and this is an example of why we interrupted it," said Malloy

But the superintendent said he also wanted to make it clear that adults, not the students, were to blame for the unofficial mascot. 

"We understand that the students had no malicious intent," said Malloy.

Malloy added that his only regret was that some had misinterpreted his words in the letter.

"Because it appeared that the students became the focus, that is the piece that in hindsight I wish our letter could have shifted that differently, because that was not what we wanted to do," said Malloy.

According to the lawyers for the cheer team, the trouble started after the results of tryouts were posted on the team's Instagram account on May 20 by an anonymous student.

Seven African Americans tried out for the cheer team and one did not make the team out of a total of 107 students who tried out, the lawyers said. There are about 40 students on the varsity cheer squad. There are several ethnicities represented on the squad, but from photographs, the majority of the members are white.

Then, about an hour after the announcement of who made the team, the cheer advisor received messages from the mother of the one African-American student who did not make the team asking why her daughter’s number was not posted, according to the Dhillon Law Group. 

The cheer advisor offered to meet with the mother and go over the score sheets. 

But the mother couldn't believe that her daughter didn't make the team and with "malicious intent" retaliated against the cheer program by making up a social media post accusing the team of being racist, the Dhillon Law Group alleged.

The post made the head look like it was the team's unofficial mascot, instead of the school's real mascot, the grizzly bear. 

"At this time, the Cheer Team has reason to believe that both the student and the mother participated in verbal and written defamation against the Cheer Team," the letter reads. 

A Bay Area cheer team seen posing with a dark-skinned mannequin.

"The level of fault between the two is not yet know and likely will not be known until court ordered discovery," the letter states. "Accordingly and for clarity in this document, the Cheer Team refers to these parties as "Disgruntled Student" and "Disgruntled Mother."

In addition, the Dhillon Law Group said that the mannequin the squad used was likely darkened in color by the disgruntled mother. But they did not provide evidence to back up their accusation.

The mannequin head the squad has used as their mascot head for the last five years is not Black and was likely altered to "manufacture controversy," the lawyer's letter said. 

In fact, the cheer team was gifted "Karine" by a former cheer member who is now a cosmetologist. The point of the mannequin was to try out new hairstyles, the letter stated. 

The girls brought the mannequin head to a meet once time and after they had a particularly good performance, the Dhillon lawyers said the team decided the mannequin was good luck and made her the team mascot.

"Karine shortly became a permanent fixture on the team," the letter stated, adding that the mannequin has also regularly appeared in the school yearbook. 

According to the Dhillon Law Group, the disgruntled mother's "defamatory post caught fire" and it was reposted to social media pages throughout the Bay Area and beyond. 

The lawyers did not identify this mother and it was impossible to verify their claims.

Because of the social media posts, though, members of the cheer team woke up to death threats, doxxing and accusations that they were racists, the Dhillon Law Group said.

Their parents and the cheer team immediately told the principal and the district what they thought had happened. 

And "despite being armed with this information," the Dhillon lawyers said Malloy put out public statements that made the young women out to be racists and liars. 

The parents and cheer team accused Malloy of refusing to correct the record. 

The Dhillon lawyers said the cheer team has suffered greatly because their side of the story had not been told, including getting harassed in the hallway and possibly having their college recruiting affected. 

The district has no evidence at this point that any particular person or family was behind snapping an image from within a video the cheer squad made about six months ago and sending it to The Black Bay Area IG account. 

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new information from the cheer team's attorneys.