We recently discussed controversies on race criteria from college admissions cases pending before the Supreme Court to the threshold criteria used by President Joe Biden for his Supreme Court nominee. Now, a federal district court in Northern Virginia has handed down a major decision in Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board, ruling that a new admissions policy at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Fairfax, Virginia is unconstitutional. Recently, the county decided to change the admissions system for the elite school to increase minority enrollment. Judge Claude Hilton ruled that the county unconstitutionally engineered the reduction of Asian-American students to achieve greater racial diversity.
As a parent of Fairfax public school students. TJ was always the premier high school for the most gifted students in the county. Even if your kids did not get into TJ, there has been great pride for its ranking as one of the best high schools in the country. Many parents were opposed when the county announced that it would pursue greater diversity in admissions. We have been discussing a movement to eliminate gifted and talented programs in cities ranging from Boston to New York to San Francisco.
The Court details the push to diversify the top school after the death of George Floyd.
“In June emails, Corbett Sanders promised intentional action. In an email to Brabrand, Corbett Sanders wrote that ‘the Board and FCPS need to be explicit in how we are going to address the under-representation of Black and Hispanic students.’ At a June 18 Board meeting, Keys-Gamarra said that ‘in looking at what has happened to George Floyd, we now know that our shortcomings are far too great . . . so we must recognize the unacceptable numbers of such things as the unacceptable numbers of African Americans that have been accepted to T.J.'”
As in the cases on the docket for the Supreme Court, Asian Americans alleged discrimination against them in these diversification programs. Judge 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 of TJ to the detriment of Asian-Americans….” He noted that, due to the new policy, “Asian American representation dropped from roughly 70 percent to around 50 percent of the class.”
As noted earlier, I believe that TJ should select students entirely based on scholastic achievement irrespective of their race or other criteria. While the country as a whole continues to fall behind other nations in math and science, TJ is one of the few exceptions — attracting brilliant students who are given highly advanced training. Math and science are fields given to objective testing and scoring. Students should be assured that they will be measured on their objective scores and rewarded for the hard work necessary to achieve admission.
What is interesting is how the diversification was achieved. The county limited the number of students admitted from any given middle school. That effectively limited the number of Asian-American students.
“FCPS staff then developed a proposal for a ‘Merit Lottery’ for TJ admissions, which they presented to the Board on September 15. The proposal stated that ‘TJ should reflect the diversity of FCPS, the community and Northern Virginia.’ The proposal discussed the use of ‘regional pathways’ that would cap the number of offers each region in FCPS (and the other participating jurisdictions) could receive. It included the results of Shughart’s modeling, which showed the projected racial effect of applying the lottery with regional pathways to three previous TJ classes. Each of the three classes would have admitted far fewer Asian-American students under the proposed lottery system.”
The summary judgment decision will now allow the county to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.