A federal judge ruled on Friday in favor of a parent coalition accusing Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) in a lawsuit of discrimination against Asian American applicants through its revised admission policy.
STEM-focused TJHSST, located in Fairfax County, Virginia, is currently ranked as the No. 1 high school and No. 5 among STEM high schools in the country by U.S. News & World Report. The accusations arose after the representation of Asian-identifying students among the newly admitted freshmen class dropped significantly from 73% to 54% in 2020 when admission policies were revised, reported WTOP.
Many concerned parents and students, represented by the Pacific Legal Defense Foundation, felt that the new admission policies were anti-Asian and filed a lawsuit against TJHSST in early January for discrimination.
In January, the parent-run coalition Parents Defending Education also shared text message exchanges between two Fairfax County school board members, Abrar Omeish and Stella Pekarsky, explicitly suggesting that the new admission policies were anti-Asian.
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The revised admission policies removed admission exams and implemented a “bonus system” which granted students points for “experience factors,” including previous attendance at schools “historically underrepresented at TJ,” according to the National Review. Judge Claude Hilton found that TJHSST engaged in illegal discrimination with the intention of “racial balancing” and that its revised admission policies were “infected with talk of racial balancing from its inception,” reported WTOP.
The school argued that the new policies were meant to be fair for all races and that those who review the applications are unaware of the applicant’s race.
In response to the ruling, a lawyer representing the school, John Foster, stated that the Fairfax County school board is considering an appeal in defense that the revised admission policies are “blind to race, gender and national origin,” reported WTOP.
The coalition, however, celebrated their victory, with one parent of a former TJHSST student, Suparna Dutta, describing the ruling to National Review as a “huge victory”.
An attorney for the Pacific Legal Defense Foundation, Erin Wilcox, also celebrated the win, saying, “This is a monumental win for parents and students here in Fairfax County, but also for equal treatment in education across the country,” reported National Review.
This case comes in light of the recent lawsuits that were filed against Harvard University by the organization Student for Fair Admissions (SFFA) in regards to accusations that the Ivy League school’s race-conscious admission process discriminates against Asian American applicants.
In a petition to the court to review the case, SFFA stated that Harvard “uses race at every stage of the admissions process” and accused the school for discriminating against Asian applicants.
“African-American and Hispanic students with PSAT scores of 1100 and up are invited to apply to Harvard, but white and Asian-American students must score a 1350. … In some parts of the country, Asian-American applicants must score higher than all other racial groups, including whites, to be recruited by Harvard,” the SFFA wrote in their petition.