For years, administrators at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) concealed students’ National Merit certifications in the name of “equity,” according to a new report.
The damning discovery was published by author and journalist Asra Q. Nomani, whose own son had not been notified of being recognized as a National Merit “Commended Student” in 2020. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, an Illinois-based nonprofit, awards some 7,500 juniors the $2,500 National Merit Scholarship every March.
While a “Commended Student” distinction does not advance a student into becoming a National Merit “Commended Scholar,” the recognition is deemed helpful for college applications and other scholarship programs. Regardless of the degree of achievement, the TJHSST officials in question — Principal Ann Bonitatibus and Director of Student Services Brandon Kosatka — allegedly withheld informing recognized students and their families.
“I learned — two years after the fact — that National Merit had recognized my son, a graduate of TJHSST’s Class of 2021, as a Commended Student in a September 10, 2020, letter that National Merit sent to Bonitatibus. But the principal, who lobbied that fall to nix the school’s merit-based admission test to increase ‘diversity,’ never told us about it,” Nomani wrote in her City Journal piece, adding that parents from previous years reported similar situations.
Nomani said at least 1,200 students have been affected over Bonitatibus’ five-year tenure.
On Sept. 16, National Merit sent the principal the names of 240 “Commended Students,” but it was not until mid-November when homeroom teachers distributed the accolades — after early-application deadlines had already passed.
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“Keeping these certificates from students is theft by the state,” said lawyer Shawna Yashar, whose son also learned that he was a “Commended Student” too late. In a call with Kosatka, she learned that the decision to withhold the news from parents and notify students in a “low-key way” was intentional.
“We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements,” Kosatka reportedly told Yashar. The student services director then claimed that he and the principal did not want to “hurt” the feelings of students who were not recognized, Nomani noted.
In an email to parents of “Commended Students” on Dec. 12, Kosatka reportedly informed them of their children’s “important recognition” and apologized for not sharing the news earlier, saying, “We are deeply sorry.”
He also said the school would contact college admissions officials to correct the students’ records, according to Nomani.
Nomani’s op-ed, which was republished by the New York Post, has triggered criticism and outrage in the Asian American community. “They decided to screw over all of the kids (most of them Asian) who had worked so hard to earn this recognition and were unable to use it in their college application. Equity at the expense of Asians isn’t equity at all,” Hyphen Capital founder Dave Lu tweeted. “These two need to be fired for their deception and hurting the lives of so many kids because they chose to take matters into their own hands.” “In the name of equity, aka equal outcomes, TJ principal refused to commend merit that cost students valuable scholarships. Accountability started with exposing the ugly premeditated actions of @TJAnnB by @AsraNomani,” tweeted Asian Wave Alliance President Yiatin Chu, who just recently was on the receiving end of anti-Asian comments at a New York City Council hearing. “Next, TJ officials will ask the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to distribute the PSAT scores for equity reasons. Take from those that score high on the PSAT and give it to those that cannot or have not scored as high,” educator and entrepreneur Krishnan Chittur tweeted. “Need to serve the DIE Gods.”