A federal judge ruled the new admission policy at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology discriminates against Asian applicants and must end.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton found that impermissible “racial balancing” was at the core of the plan to overhaul admissions to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, known as “TJ.” The school routinely ranks as the best or one of the best public schools in the country, and slots at the school are highly competitive.
In 2020, the Fairfax County School Board significantly revamped the admissions process at the school. A standardized test that had been a linchpin of the admissions process was scrapped in favor of a system that set aside equal numbers of TJ slots at each of the county’s middle schools, among other changes.
Hilton, in his ruling, wrote, “The discussion of admissions changes was infected with talk of racial balancing from its inception.”
Under the old admission policy students were rated on the basis of a standardized test and essay, grades in 7th and 8th grade, math courses taken in middle school, and teacher recommendations. In an effort to increase Black enrollment at TJ, in 2020 the FCPS school board voted to eliminate the test and essays, only a minimal level of math courses, and adopt a lottery system at all middle schools in the county. Students from schools with a higher number of Black students got an extra boost in admissions. That brought down the percentage of Asian students from 73% to 54%, Blacks increased from 1% to 7%, Hispanic students from 3% to 11%.
Prior to 1997, TJ practiced affirmative action in admissions and simply drew Blacks for admission from their applicant pool regardless of test scores and essays and other qualifying factors. That year, a group of parents of students who were not accepted for admission because they had been displaced by Black students who were less qualified, sued FCPS. The parents won the lawsuit and 32 additional white and Asian students were accepted to TJ over the summer. TJ was no longer able to practice affirmation action. Since that time FCPS has spent many millions of dollars trying to devise programs that would boost Black and Hispanic admissions to TJHHST. At one time in 1999/2000 there were 11 different programs available to Black and Hispanic students in an effort to help them qualify for admission. Nothing has worked until 2020 when FCPS voted to use a lottery with a finger on the scale for students from middle schools with higher populations of Black students who historically sent fewer students to TJ.
Now U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton has ruled the new admission policies illegal.
From the WashingtonPost.com:
U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton concluded that an effort to boost African American and Latino representation at TJ, as the school is known, constitutes an illegal act of “racial balancing.” He added that the school board altered the admissions process — eliminating a notoriously difficult test and a $100 application fee, choosing instead to evaluate students on “experience factors” such as socioeconomic background — in a rushed, sloppy and opaque manner.
Hilton wrote that “emails and text messages between Board members and high-ranking FCPS officials leave no material dispute that, at least in part, the purpose of the Board’s admissions overhaul was to change the racial makeup to TJ to the detriment of Asian-Americans.”
FCPS is considering an appeal of Judge Hilton’s decision. Those of you who live in Fairfax County call or email your school board member and members-at-large to let them know you do not want your money wasted on these appeals.
Admission at TJ will now go back to a merit-based policy without regard to race, or middle school attendance, as it should be.
(Full disclosure: I am a proud parent of a TJ graduate.)