Parent Coalition Alleges Elite Virginia High School’s Admissions Process Discriminates Against Asian-American Students

A lawsuit filed by a parent coalition alleges that an elite Virginia high school recalibrated its admissions process to shrink the prominent Asian-American student population.

Thomas Jefferson High School, commonly referred to as TJ, is a specialty school for students gifted in math, science, and technology. The magnet school partners with the Fairfax County Public School district (FCPS) and often ranks as one of the best public schools in the nation. 

According to The Washington Post, Asian-American students at TJ made up 70% of the student body in the 2019-2020 school year, though Fairfax County’s Asian population is only 30%. 

FCPS committed itself to become an “anti-racist” institution following the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. In October, the FCPS board voted to nix TJ’s rigorous admissions test and the $100 application fee in the name of equity and inclusion. The proposal — which was brought forward by Superintendent Scott Braband — sought to increase the size of the high school. 

The school board also voted to approve a new “holistic review” process. It requires admissions administrators to take students’ socioeconomic status, disabilities, and native language into account in the admissions process. 

On March 10, FCPS was hit with a second lawsuit alleging discrimination against Asian-Americans. The lawsuit was filed by the parent group “Coalition for TJ” and alleges that the admissions process changes were made to reduce the number of Asian students at TJ. 

“This action concerns FCPS’ recently-implemented overhaul of the TJ admissions process, which eliminated the long-standing race-neutral standardized admissions test,” the lawsuit reads. “The Coalition alleges that these changes were specifically intended to reduce the percentage of Asian-American students who enroll in TJ, with the ultimate goal of racially balancing the school according to the racial demographics of Fairfax County.” 

The lawsuit also alleges that the school violated the Equal Protection Clause, which mandates that the state treat each individual in the same manner regardless of race or circumstance. 

“The Equal Protection Clause is a promise that government at every level will treat every American as an individual, not simply as a member of his or her racial group,” the lawsuit reads. “Policies like the one implemented by FCPS stand in direct opposition to that promise.” 

The lawsuit also seeks a permanent injunction that would revert the school’s admissions process to its original format. 

In an op-ed for USA Today, Asra Normani, one of the leaders of the Coalition for TJ, detailed how the new standards degrade TJ’s prestige. 

“Many Asian American families, like mine, have worked hard and sacrificed to prepare their children to meet the rigors of the test and the TJ curriculum,” Normani wrote. “We protested this weakening of standards — in part because it was clearly aimed at reducing our numbers in the student body, but just as importantly because it would degrade TJ’s long tradition of advanced learning.”

In response to the lawsuit, a spokeswoman for FCPS told The Washington Post that it is proud to be removing the admissions test and fee to allow more “culturally and ethnically diverse” students to attend the magnet school. 

“It is in that vein that the Board fervently supported removing the historical barriers and inequities faced by students from culturally and ethnically diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, while still ensuring that TJ maintains its high academic standards,” the spokeswoman said. 

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