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BREAKING: FCPS wins legal battle over TJ admissions after Supreme Court passes on case

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s current admissions policy will remain in place after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider a lawsuit alleging that it discriminates against Asian students.

The Supreme Court denied a petition for a hearing today (Tuesday) by the Coalition for TJ, an advocacy group that sued the Fairfax County School Board in 2021 after the admissions process for the highly competitive magnet school was revised with the goal of diversifying the student body.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the case ends a legal battle that lasted nearly three years and could’ve upended diversity initiatives in public education nationwide.

“We have long believed that the new admissions process is both constitutional and in the best interest of all of our students,” said School Board Chair Karl Frisch, who represents Providence District. “It guarantees that all qualified students from all neighborhoods in Fairfax County have a fair shot at attending this exceptional high school.”

The school board voted in December 2020 to eliminate a standardized test and application fee that were previously required for students seeking admittance into Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ). The board also raised the minimum grade point average for applicants, guaranteed eligibility to the top 1.5% of eighth graders at each middle school and added essay requirements and consideration of “experience factors” such as a student’s status as a recipient of free meals or involvement in special education.

Spurred by student activism after Fairfax County Public Schools reported that fewer than 10 Black students had been accepted in both 2019 and 2020, the policy overhaul has resulted in more diverse classes at TJ, particularly in terms of geography and income, since the changes took effect in 2021 for the Class of 2025.

Though Asian students got 61.6% of offers for the freshman class that entered last fall, compared to 19% for white students, 6.7% for Black students and 6% for Hispanic students, the Coalition for TJ has argued that the revised policy was designed to reduce the number of Asian students at the school, violating Constitutional protections against racial discrimination.

A district court judge agreed with the coalition in 2022 that Asian American students were “disproportionately harmed,” ordering FCPS to scrap the new admissions policy. However, that ruling was overturned last May by an appeals court panel that found the coalition had failed to prove that the school board “adopted its race-neutral policy with any discriminatory intent.”

The coalition petitioned the Supreme Court to pick up the case after the justices ruled in June 2023 that colleges can’t explicitly consider race as part of their admissions processes, ending decades of affirmative action programs intended to boost Black, Hispanic and other often underrepresented students.

Pacific Legal Foundation senior attorney Joshua Thompson, who represented the Coalition for TJ, says the Supreme Court “missed an important opportunity” to address admissions policies like the ones adopted for TJ that don’t explicitly consider race but still affect student demographics.

“Today, the American Dream was dealt a blow, but we remain committed to protecting the values of merit, equality, and justice,” Coalition for TJ co-founder Asra Nomani said in a statement. “…For the courageous families who have tirelessly fought for the principles that our nation holds dear, this decision is a setback but not a death blow to our commitment to the American Dream, which promises equal opportunity and justice for all.”

In a statement from FCPS, Frisch noted that TJ has accepted students from every Fairfax County middle school and maintained an average grade-point average for its incoming classes of 3.9 over the past three years.

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