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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A federal judge’s ruling that recent changes to the admissions process for Fairfax County Public Schools’ prestigious magnet school were discriminatory has inspired both praise and condemnation.
As first reported by The Washington Post, U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton issued an opinion on Friday (Feb. 25) finding that the elimination of a standardized test and other alterations to how students are admitted into Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) were made “to the detriment of Asian-Americans.”
“It is clear that Asian-American students are disproportionately harmed by the [Fairfax County School] Board’s decision to overhaul TJ admissions,” Hilton wrote. “Currently and in the future, Asian-American applicants are disproportionately deprived of a level playing field in competing for both allocated and unallocated seats.”
Hilton also called the school board’s process for implementing the changes “remarkably rushed and shoddy” with “a noticeable lack of public engagement and transparency.”
The Coalition for TJ, a group of parents and alumni that filed the lawsuit in March 2021, celebrated the ruling as a victory “for parents everywhere who are questioning the unlawful acts of runaway school boards.”
“Coalition for TJ is thrilled by Judge Claude Hilton’s clear renunciation of racism and discrimination and his powerful defense of equality,” co-founder Asra Nomani said in a statement. “For almost two years, our courageous families have battled an incalcitrant and racist school board and superintendent intent on using ‘social justice,’ ‘equity’ and ‘anti-racism’ to perpetuate racism and discrimination against Asian students and families.”
The ruling was lauded by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who made undoing the admissions changes part of his gubernatorial campaign, as well as advocacy groups like the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York.
Today’s decision reaffirms that TJ’s admissions should be based on merit. We thank the parents who stood up for their children. We will work everyday to ensure that every student across VA has a quality education so they can dream big dreams and be prepared for success in life.
— Governor Glenn Youngkin (@GovernorVA) February 25, 2022
FCPS maintained that TJ admissions changes approved by the School Board on Dec. 17, 2020, are merit-based and race-neutral, noting that the first class admitted under the new system still had a majority of Asian American students and a grade point average in line with previous years.
“The new process is blind to race, gender and national origin and gives the most talented students from every middle school a seat at TJ,” FCPS Division Counsel John Foster said. “We believe that a trial would have shown that the new process meets all legal requirements.” Read More