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Parents, Virginia's AG Call on SCOTUS To Halt Discriminatory Admissions Process for Country's Best High School

AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib

The embattled Fairfax County Public School system, which is the largest in Virginia and one of the largest in the country, is back in the news, as a group of parents known as Coalition for TJ and Attorney General Jason Miyares (R-VA) are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to get rid of a discriminatory lottery-based system admissions policy. The policy applies to the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology, which is consistently ranked the best high school in the country. 

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As I highlighted last month, U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton in February ruled that the district getting rid of a merit-based system in favor of a lottery system for the school discriminated against Asian-Americans. The school board appealed and asked for a stay, lamenting the burdens that would follow from having to reinstitute their old admissions policy when the application process is already underway.

While Judge Hilton did not find the school board's argument compelling, a majority of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit did. In addition to claiming that the "Coalition appears to have identified no evidence that TJ’s current race neutral policy is intended to achieve a certain percentage of Black, Hispanic, or Asian American students," Judge Toby Heytens wrote that he believes "In my view, appellant Fairfax County School Board is likely to succeed."

As Hannah Natanson reported for The Washington Post:

In a late February ruling, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton sided with the parents on almost every point. He concluded that the admissions system constitutes an illegal act of “racial balancing” and that emails and text messages between Fairfax board members, which emerged during the lawsuit, “leave no material dispute that … the purpose of the Board’s admissions overhaul was to change the racial makeup of TJ to the detriment of Asian Americans.” 

He ordered Fairfax to cease using the revised TJ admissions system. Fairfax officials at first requested a stay of the order — so they could finish processing applications for the 2,500 prospective members of the Class of 2026 who had already applied — but Hilton denied their request in mid-March.

On March 14, the Fairfax school board filed an appeal of Hilton’s ruling with the 4th Circuit Court.  

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It was that appeal that invigorated a group of parents, including those who are part of the lawsuit, such as Asra Q. Nomani, to protest the school board meeting on March 10, which led to school board members recessing. 

As Nomani told Townhall in a statement, "brave parents -- mostly Asian and mostly immigrant -- stood at the U.S. Supreme Court with a simple plea to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts: we seek equality under the law for all of America's children. Virginia Attorney General is bold and courageous in calling out the "state-sponsored bigotry" Asian children face today. Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board is Brown v. Board of Education for the 21st century. As the U.S. Supreme Court struck down systemic racism against Black students in the 1950s, we are confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will not allow a school board today to practice racism against its latest target: Asian kids. Defending this kind of bigotry is unconscionable and the Fairfax County School Board will go down in history as purveyors of a new racism that we, the parents, dismantled!?"

It's not merely Nomani and the Coalition which has found compelling instances of discriminatory and racist admissions policies. 

"The Board acted with an impermissible racial purpose when it sought to decrease enrollment of 'overrepresented' Asian American students at TJ to better 'reflect the racial composition' of the surrounding area,'" Judge Allison Jones Rushing wrote in her dissenting opinion, as cited by Natanson. "Board member discussions were permeated with racial balancing, as were its stated aims and its use of racial data to model proposed outcomes."

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The coalition submitted an emergency application on April 8, which could be decided by Chief Justice John Roberts, who could also decide to refer the case to the entire Court.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which had brought the case on behalf of the coalition explains:

Up until this yearadmission to TJ was merit-based and raceblind; requirements included a standardized test, gradepoint average, completion of certain math classes, and teacher recommendations. The school board and superintendent completely did away with the test, starting with the 2021-22 school year.  

More problematic, however, is that the new admissions policy also caps the number of students allowed from each of the district’s 23 middle schools. The three middle schools that typically account for most of TJ’s admissions have higher numbers of Asian-American students than most other middle schools. 

As a result, TJ’s Class of 2025 is projected to have 42 percent fewer Asian-American students, while no other racial group will lose seats. Mr. Verma crunched the numbers, using his data science background, and found white students will benefit the most from the changes. 

School district officials have made no secret that their clear and unequivocal objective is to reduce the number of Asian-American students at TJ. There is no evidence the district considered any race-neutral alternatives, like creating additional STEM high schools or providing greater access to standardized testing prep without middle school quotas. 

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Virginia's Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares, along with 15 other attorney generals, filed an amicus brief against the admissions policy. 

"Right now, there are innocent Virginians unfairly treated and punished not for anything they’ve done, but because of who they are. Thomas Jefferson High School’s new admissions process is state sanctioned bigotry – it’s wrong, and it’s the exact opposite of equality. As Attorney General, I’ll never stop fighting for the equal treatment and protection of all Virginians," Miyrares said. 

The brief is also signed by attorney generals from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. 

Another similarly embattled school district, in Loudoun County, has considered similar practices. 

"We are watching this matter very closely in Loudoun County where a similar race-based admissions scheme was implemented at the Academies of Loudoun. It is encouraging to see the TJ parents in Fairfax continue to fight for equality and meritocracy - they continue to be an inspiration in Virginia and throughout the country," Ian Prior, the executive director of Fight for Schools, told Townhall in a statement. 

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Fairfax County has been in the news quite a bit, including to do with the case of Dr. Harry Jackson, whom Fox News profiled last Sunday:

A Virginia parent and former PTA president who openly criticized what he categorized as race-based admissions at an elite public high school was delivered a win Friday after four criminal charges were dropped. 

Dr. Harry Jackson, a father and former naval intelligence officer, opposed the policy at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria that based admissions more on race and less on merit. Steve Descano, a Democratic prosecutor backed by billionaire George Soros, pursued criminal charges of libel and slander against Jackson over tweets published in 2020. 

Jackson, also a professor at numerous other universities and the African American Community Liaison for Fairfax GOP, had accused liberal activist Jorge Torrico of "grooming" behavior.  

This is also the same school district that was in the news for suspending students who showed up to school without masks earlier this year when the mask mandate was still in place, as well as which has mocked parents who opposed sexually explicit materials being made available in libraries. 

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