An external investigation found that Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) did not deliberately delay notifying students of their National Merit recognitions, the school district announced this week.
The county’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) — regarded as one of America’s top high schools — has been embroiled in controversy since late December after its administrators were accused of concealing certifications of National Merit from “Commended Students” in order to spare the feelings of those who were not recognized.
Details of the allegation emerged in a City Journal piece by author and journalist Asra Q. Nomani, whose own son had not been notified of being a Commended Student on time for college applications. Nomani noted that at least 1,200 students had been affected by the supposed concealment, most of whom were Asian.
The controversy soon prompted Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares to launch an FCPS-wide investigation. Shortly after, principals from two other FCPS schools — Langley High School and Westfield High School — emailed parents of Commended Students to apologize for the delay in their own announcements, saying they were “deeply” and “sincerely” sorry.
On Wednesday, FCPS reported the findings of Sands Anderson, a law firm that it directed in January to independently investigate the allegations.
According to the school district, Sands Anderson found no evidence that the high schools in question ”intentionally refrained” from notifying Commended Students of their National Merit recognitions, nor that the process or timing for student notifications “were impacted in any way by racial considerations or any effort to minimize or fail to celebrate students’ achievements.”
Sands Anderson reportedly conducted 29 interviews with principals, administrators, staffers, IT leaders and parents throughout its investigation. The law firm also had unconstrained access to documents and records, FCPS said.
The investigation found that all 23 FCPS schools had notified their Commended Students. Of these, 15 sent notifications before Nov. 1, 2022 — an early admission deadline for some colleges — while the remaining eight sent theirs after the date.
The delays, as per the investigation, came as a result of “logistical issues” that varied from school to school, as well as the district’s “lack of any uniform, division-wide policy, process, or deadline for providing such notice.”
The probe also pointed to the fact that the National Merit Scholarship Corporation itself “does not provide direct notice to Commended Students and also provides no specific guidance regarding how or when students should be notified.”
“This is not a school-specific concern at this point. Rather, this is a system concern around the policy and procedures that need to be in place to prevent this from happening again,” Superintendent Michelle Reid said at a public meeting Wednesday, according to CNN.
For now, school staff members have drafted a new regulation to ensure the timely announcement of National Merit recognitions, Reid said. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office will reportedly continue its own investigation.