We previously discussed the lowering of admission standards at Virginia’s elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology to achieve diversity goals. Now the school is again under fire for waiting roughly a month to distribute National Merit certificates in the name of equity. The decision meant that students could not report the awards on their college applications before the passage of the October 31 deadline.
Journalist and advocate Asra Nomani alleges that the delay was due to Thomas Jefferson’s equity efforts, and its new “equal outcomes for every student, without exception” strategy. She also alleges that the most impacted (due to their higher percentage among recipients) were Asian students — an analogous claim to the alleged anti-Asian discrimination in the two Supreme Court admissions cases now pending.
Nomani’s report appeared in the New York Post.
Nomani claims that Thomas Jefferson’s principal, Ann Bonitaibus, told a concerned parent in an email that the school had received the National Merit certificates in mid-October, and that she had signed them within 48 hours.
However, the awards were not distributed by teachers until November 14. She claims that Brandon Kosatka, the director of student services, admitted on a call with another parent that the delay was based on a desire “to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements.”
Nomani revealed emails from parents objecting to equity concerns overriding academic achievement when these students needed to include the recognition in their college applications. Whatever the reason for the delay, these students missed an important credential for inclusion in applications to highly competitive colleges.
Bonitatibus has pushed for equity-based policies at Thomas Jefferson and to move away from its tradition of focusing solely on academic achievement. That tradition had made the school the number one ranked high school in the nation.
The new policies have led to an effort to limit the number of Asian Americans to achieve “racial diversity.”
It is possible to achieve diversity in these programs without racial discrimination or criteria, but it is not as easy — or as fast — as just leveling down entry standards or delaying recognitions. We can focus on underperforming public schools to better prepare minority students. However, with continuing dismal performances of public educators in major cities, that’s not a welcomed approach for many in education. It’s easier to reduce entry standards than it is to elevate performance rates.
What is striking about these controversies is that neither parents nor the public appear to support the new policies. Thomas Jefferson has always been a point of pride for many of us in Fairfax County, even if your kids did not go to the school. It was meant to be a school that was reserved for brilliant students who are able to take extremely advanced courses and perform university-level research.
The policies under Bonitatibus should be the subject of outside review in how they are impacting a school that has long been the gold standard nationally. Public schools are subject to public standards set with the input of the board and the parents. The parental input has clearly not carried much weight with Bonitatibus. It is time for a more public debate over the future of “TJ.”