Fairfax County Public Schools has asked a federal court to let its current Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology admissions process stay in place while a legal battle over the new system continues.
U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton issued an order last Friday (Feb. 25) invalidating the school system’s overhaul, calling the elimination of a standardized test and other changes intended to increase student diversity at the magnet school discriminatory against Asian Americans.
FCPS filed a motion today (Friday) requesting a stay on the judge’s ruling so it can continue using the current system to evaluate candidates for the upcoming class of 2026, who submitted applications in the fall.
“Fairfax County School Board believes the ruling is not supported by law and is considering all options around an appeal,” Fairfax County School Board Chair Stella Pekarsky said in a statement.
FCPS argues in a brief that requiring the school board to develop and implement a new admissions process in time for the new students to start class in August “would cause irreparable harm,” burdening staff and creating uncertainty for the families whose children applied.
According to Pekarsky, FCPS received approximately 2,500 applications in this admissions cycle, which required students to have at least a 3.5 grade point average and submit a problem-solving essay, among other criteria.
The parent and community group Coalition for TJ argues in its lawsuit that this process, particularly the elimination of an existing standardized testing requirement and the consideration of factors like income, amounts to discrimination against students of Asian heritage.
Hilton agreed with the Coalition, stating that the overhaul “disproportionately harmed Asian American students” and criticizing the school board’s decision-making process as “rushed” with insufficient public engagement.
FCPS indicates in its brief that it intends to appeal Hilton’s ruling to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, maintaining that the admissions process is race-neutral and merit-based.
Here is more from Pekarsky’s statement:
Failure to grant this [stay] would cause uncertainty and distress to the current applicant pool. Our current pool of approximately 2,500 applicants for the Class of 2026 have been thoroughly vetted under our existing application process, have met the stringent minimum academic criteria, including a GPA of 3.5 or above, along with enrollment in honors level courses and deserve a place in our application process. In addition, failure to grant this would cause significant operational disruptions for TJ ahead of the next school year, including hiring decisions, course selections, teaching assignments and the development of curriculum.
This application process identified 550 high achieving students for the Class of 2025, who have proven that diversifying the school has not led to a drop in academic standards.
“FCPS believes that our new application process will eventually be proven to meet all legal requirements,” Pekarsky said.
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