A federal judge ruled Friday that school officials in Fairfax County, Virginia, violated the law by altering admissions requirements at the nation’s top-ranked high school, since the changes discriminated against Asian Americans.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) system, which is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the best school nationwide, came under fire last year for abolishing an entrance exam at which Asian students excelled, The Daily Wire reported. Community members, represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, filed a lawsuit against the school board last March.
U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton for Virginia’s Eastern District ruled that the admissions process change was discriminatory toward Asian American students. The school board had adopted an equity policy to balance racial groups, thereby gutting an exam on which Asians performed well, and accepting other minorities who did not do well largely on the test.
The first class of students under the new district policy showed Asian students were admitted in lesser numbers, The Daily Wire had reported in June 2021. There was a 54% reduction in Asian students, while an overwhelming 80% of parents said in two PTA polls that the admissions policy should continue like before.
“This is a monumental win for parents and students here in Fairfax County, but also for equal treatment in education across the country,” attorney Erin Wilcox for Pacific Legal Foundation said in a statement. “We hope this ruling sends the message that government cannot choose who receives the opportunity to attend public schools based on race or ethnicity.”
Asra Nomani, who co-founded the community member coalition opposing Fairfax County Public Schools’ policy, applauded Judge Hilton for his ruling. “It is a victory for equality under the law, merit education and the American Dream,” said Nomani, vice president for investigations at Parents Defending Education. “We are so grateful to the team at Pacific Legal Foundation for being relentless defenders of justice.”
Hilton, who was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan, wrote in his ruling that “discussion of TJ admissions changes was infected with talk of racial balancing from its inception.” In addition to that, school board members “sought to use geography to obtain their desired racial outcome.” The judge wrote:
Even aside from the statements confirming that the board’s goal was to bring racial balance to TJ, the board’s requests for racial data demonstrate discriminatory intent. … Discriminatory intent does not require racial animus. What matters is that the board acted at least in part because of, not merely in spite of, the policy’s adverse effects upon an identifiable group.
“That is the case here,” the judge continued. “The board’s policy was designed to increase Black and Hispanic enrollment, which would, by necessity, decrease the representation of Asian-Americans at TJ.”
Admissions for the high school were previously race-blind and merit-based. The Fairfax school board also began awarding bonus points for things like attendance at a middle school that typically did not send many students to Thomas Jefferson, and mandated high school seats for 1.5% of every eighth grade middle school grade in the district.