Lawsuit alleging admissions discrimination at top US public high school moves forward
07/26/2021 // Nolan Barton // Views

District Judge Claude Hilton ruled in May that a parents' group can move forward with a lawsuit alleging that new admissions policies at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in northern Virginia discriminate against Asian Americans.

The U.S. News and World Report rated the school commonly known as TJ as the best public high school in the country in April.

Asian Americans constitute more than 70 percent of the student population at TJ, and for decades Black and Hispanic students have been underrepresented there.

In a bid to increase diversity at the school, the Fairfax County School Board drastically overhauled the admissions process at the school – scrapping a standardized test that had been the linchpin of the process. The new system now allocates slots at the highly competitive school in a system that distributes the vast majority of slots to the top 1.5 percent of students at each of the county's middle schools.

An application fee and other items that were seen as a barrier to Black and Hispanic families have also been eliminated. In a statement given after the lawsuit was filed in March, a spokeswoman for the school board called TJ's previous admissions exam one of the "historical barriers" blocking students "from culturally and ethnically diverse socioeconomic backgrounds."

School board members have said that increasing geographic diversity at the school should improve racial diversity.

New policy targets Asian Americans who prosper under old system

Opponents of the changes, Asian American parents in particular, said that the new process will no longer attract the very best students to the school. They alleged that the changes target Asian American families who prospered under the old system. (Related: Harvard's mass discrimination against Asians exposed in shocking investigation… RACIST BIGOTS run the school.)


Lawyers for the Fairfax County School Board urged the judge to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.

Attorney Stuart Raphael said the new admissions policy is explicitly race-neutral and that admissions evaluators don't even know the race of the applicants. He stressed that under federal case law, a school board is within its rights to be motivated by a desire to increase opportunities for Black and Hispanic students, as long as they don't show a specific intent to discriminate against Asian Americans.

The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), which is representing the parent group Coalition for TJ, said the practical effect of changing policies to increase Black and Hispanic students is to reduce slots for Asian Americans.

"The new admissions policy 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," PLF said in a statement. "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."

Erin Wilcox, an attorney for PLF said: "There are a finite number of seats at TJ," Wilcox said. "You cannot intend to increase the seats for one race without knowing it will decrease the seats for another race."

Hilton didn't buy the school system's assertions that its new admissions policy is race neutral.

"Everybody knows the policy is not race neutral, and that it's designed to affect the racial composition of the school," he said. "You can say all sorts of beautiful things while you're doing others."

New policy still applies for incoming class of freshmen

While Hilton allowed the lawsuit to move forward to the next stage, he denied a request for an injunction that would have barred the school system from using the new policy for the incoming class of freshmen.

He said it would be too disruptive to order a change at such a late date.

Raphael said the school system is has almost completed its review of applications for the upcoming fall semester, and that students will find out in June whether they have been admitted under the new process.

Julia McCaskill of Herndon, a Coalition for TJ member who has an eighth-grader waiting on whether she'll be accepted to TJ, said she was disappointed that the judge declined to issue an injunction. Her Asian American daughter attends a middle school that has a large number of high-performing students and typically sends large numbers of students to TJ.

With all but 100 of the 550 slots in the freshman class reserved for just the top 1.5 percent of students at each school, she said the new rules diminish her daughter's chances of acceptance.

The TJ admissions lawsuit reflects a national debate over admissions and racial composition of elite public high schools. Similar lawsuits and debates have emerged at top-tier schools in New York, California and some other states.

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