This week, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares walked through the glass doors of the Korean Community Center off Little River Turnpike, the dome of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology visible through the window, and with him stood five parents of current and former students at TJ, as the school is known locally.
In a devastating announcement for Fairfax County Public Schools, Miyares announced twin civil rights investigations into, first, the withholding of National Merit Commended Student awards by TJ administrators and, second, a Fairfax County school admissions policy, put in place in December 2020, that a federal judge ruled discriminates illegally against Asian American students.
Miyares’ team will be seeking to identify a “pattern and practice” of discriminatory actions, a standard in civil rights cases. Currently, in defense of the school district, FCPS spokeswoman Julie Moult told reporters Dec. 29, that withholding National Merit Commendation awards from students this year was a “one-time human error in the fall of 2022 only.”
“To suggest a deliberate intent to withhold this information would be inaccurate and contrary to the values of FCPS,” Moult continued. The district, she went on, values “hard work and dedication.”
“Fairfax County Public Schools also seems to value obfuscation and deception,” said Norma Margulies, the mother of a student at TJ, an immigrant from Peru and one of the parents standing on stage with Miyares.
An email, obtained by Fairfax Times, reveals that, indeed, in fall 2020, TJ staffers misled parents and students about the National Merit Commended Student award, presented to the top 3 percent of 1.5 million students who take the PSAT exam.
In the email, dated Nov. 24, 2020, at 11:53:25 a.m., a TJ staffer copied and pasted information about the Commended Student award into an email to a parent, who was asking about the award, incorrectly stating, “There is no letter and no formal announcement for Commended scholars and the list of Commended scholars is not made public.”
In fact, more than two entire months earlier, on Sept. 10, 2020, according to a National Merit Scholarship Corporation spokeswoman, the Illinois-based nonprofit sent a letter to TJ Principal Ann Bonitatibus notifying her the school had 230 National Merit Commended Students. Most of them were Asian American. The school district typically releases the names of National Merit Semifinalists, who advance to compete to be National Merit Finalists.
The National Merit letter included a note with the explicit expectation that schools will inform students and parents, “Please present the letters of commendation as soon as possible since it is the students’ only notification.”
But Bonitatibus didn’t present the “letters of commendation” to students as “soon as possible,” and in fact the TJ staffer incorrectly stated that “there is no letter” of commendation. In other schools in the school district, counselors graciously notified students, but not at TJ. That September 2020, administrators and school board members were instead directly targeting the school’s minority population of 70 percent of Asian American students, who supposedly “overrepresented” the 20 percent of Asian Americans who live in Fairfax County.
At a school board meeting on Sept. 15, 2020, just five days after National Merit sent Bonitatibus sent the list of Commended Students that wasn’t delivered to parents, Bonitatibus said “action does need to be taken” to “advance the representative demographics at our school.” She said she would go to “barber shops,” Hispanic street festivals and Special Olympics to recruit students to TJ.
“This is a smoking gun email. This illustrates a pattern and practice of discrimination against the school’s mostly Asian American students and families,” said Glenn Miller, the father of a TJ Class of 2022 graduate, after stepping off the stage with Miyares. In recent days, his wife, Helen Miller, and he have scoured their son’s academic folders but found no sign of the Commended Student certificate that their son earned in fall 2021. They have requested a copy of the certificate but not yet received it.
Sometime in the fall of 2020, a guidance counselor, “Mrs. Cox,” sent a message to one awardee via Naviance, a clunky software college and career planning platform that most students ignore because they get so much spam, according to a copy of the message obtained by the Fairfax Times. The message started brightly, stating, “Congratulations!” It ended bleakly, however, stating, “Unfortunately, this commendation does not allow you to continue in the competition for the National Merit Scholarship. Congrats again!”
But actually, that is misleading. National Merit states in a guide for winners that Commended Students are eligible to compete for 800 “Special Scholarships,” many established by corporations, even if they don’t advance to be official “National Merit Scholarship” winners.
In fact, on its website, National Merit brags about a computer science student who said a Special Scholarship from Armstrong World Industries “helped me afford to attend Cornell University—the school of my dream,” and a math genius who used her Electrolux U.S. Special Scholarship for a finance degree at Case Western Reserve University. She said she could “only imagine that any student would be equally as grateful.”
Most TJ students – most of them Asian American — never got a chance to enjoy the fruits of their Commended Student award. A survey of universities, completed by the Fairfax Times, found that the award can pay off, interestingly with the quickest data available from Christian universities. In Lynchburg, Va., Liberty University gives National Merit Commended Students a full four-year scholarship worth $23,800 a year, or $95,200 over four years. In Riverside, Calif., La Sierra University gives Commended Students scholarships for one-third of their full tuition, adding up to $14,899.50 per year, or $45,150 over four years. On the lower end, but still important to any family, in Abilene, Texas, Abilene Christian University gives Commended Students $2,000 per year, or $8,000 over four years.
Liberty notes, “A certificate from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation is required.”
When the parent asked for the certificate, the TJ school staffer responded, “The certificates will be placed with diplomas for distribution in June.”
“Getting the certificates in their diplomas in June does zero for the scholarship hope of students and parents,” said Srilekha Palle, an immigrant from India and the mother of a daughter at TJ. “It shows that what they did this year was standard operating procedure.”
After the parent requested a scan, the TJ staffer finally provided a copy of the certificate. But the rest of the school’s other Commended Students didn’t. (I just learned my son was a National Merit Commended Student in 2020, but we didn’t learn about his award until the course of my reporting last month.)
One senior, set to graduate in May 2023, just discovered that he was a Commended Student, his score in the 99 percent of high schoolers. Another graduate from the Class of 2019 just learned – for the first time, as a senior at the University of Virginia – that he was a Commended Student. He could never use the certificate and the award to earn a merit scholarship or negotiate for a better financial aid package.
The night before the Miyares press conference, parents walked through the glass front doors of TJ to walk into the library, angry about the mismanagement of the award by the principal and school administrators. There, new school Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid showed up to answer questions from parents, with school district legal counsel John Foster, assistant superintendent Fabio Zuluaga, Helen Lloyd, executive director, office of communication and community relations, and other executives. A parent pressed Reid and school board member Rachna Sizemore Heizer about following through on a December 2020 board vote to hand over control of TJ to a regional governing board.
Bonitatibus did not show up for the meeting.
On Wednesday, Miyares sent Reid and Bonitatibus a letter with a simple subject line, “NOTICE OF INVESTIGATION: THOMAS JEFFERSON HIGH SCHOOL FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AND FAIRFAX COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
(Article published at Fairfaxtimes.com)
Just one more arrow in the quiver of condemnation for Democrats and their policies. It is hard to imagine a person so deranged as to support theses actions. It is even harder to imagine that this person would be in a position of authority. It is nearly impossible to understand that a broad swath of America has fallen under such a deep spell of deception as to believe that their evil actions are “good.”
This is diversity, equity and inclusion all rolled into a communist bundle. Beware the democrat party.
Racism by any other name is still racism. They figures the Asians wouldn’t fight back so they were targeted. Wrong, Bonitatibus, and now you must be fired.
And face criminal charges as well as civil lawsuits.