Fairfax County Public Schools can use its revamped admissions process to evaluate the next class of prospective Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology students, a federal appeals court ruled today (Thursday).
The overhauled admissions process, which replaced a standardized test with an essay, a higher grade-point-average requirement, and other criteria, is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit filed against the county school board by the Coalition for TJ, a parent and community group that opposes the changes.
Siding with the Coalition, a U.S. District Court judge ordered FCPS to scrap the new admissions procedures in February, calling the changes discriminatory toward Asian Americans.
With a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel with the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has granted the school board’s request to stay the lower court’s order, disputing Judge Claude M. Hilton’s argument that the revised admissions process had a disparate impact on Asian American applicants.
“The race neutral policy challenged here includes no racial quotas or targets,” Circuit Judge Toby Heytens said in his opinion. “And 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.”
Heytens said a suspension of the order invalidating the admissions changes was warranted, because as the school board argued, it would be unfeasible to change the system for the upcoming Class of 2026, which submitted applications in the fall.
In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Allison Rushing argued that the school board had not sufficiently proved a stay is necessary to prevent irreparable harm to its reputation.
“Everyone — even temporarily frustrated applicants and their families — ultimately benefits from a public-school admissions process not tainted by unconstitutional discrimination,” Rushing wrote.
FCPS said the stay will allow it to proceed with evaluating applications for the magnet school from more than 2,500 students while the court proceedings continue.
“We are pleased with the ruling from the Fourth Circuit, and we will continue to pursue our appeal of the lower court’s ruling,” School Board Chair Stella Pekarsky said in a statement from FCPS.
The Coalition for TJ did not immediately return FFXnow’s request for comment.
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