Virginia’s Republican governor and attorney general are scrutinizing another liberal school district in the D.C. suburbs, following a special grand jury convened by the pair that indicted two Loudoun County school officials.
Governor Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General Jason Miyares have turned their sights to Fairfax County, one of the nation’s largest school districts, after its magnet high school — once the top-ranked in the nation — allegedly withheld academic awards from students following a commitment to “equity” instead of “achievements.”
“I am stunned by news reports alleging that information about National Merit Awards, as determined by student PSAT scores, was withheld from students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology until after important deadlines for college scholarships had passed,” Youngkin wrote to Miyares on Tuesday.
“I believe this failure may have caused material harm to those students and their parents, and that this failure may have violated the Virginia Human Rights Act,” he wrote. “Parents matter. Students matter. We also know that achievement matters,” Youngkin wrote.
Hours later, Miyares — who has the authority to investigate violations of the Act — announced a press conference “to address Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology” near the school.
Being a National Merit Scholarship Commended Student means that a youngster is in the top three percent of high schoolers in the nation in academic achievement. In the past, schools have been quick to heap praise on such students. But Principal Ann Bonitatibus did not tell students of their award until the college admissions window had already passed — potentially depriving magnet school students of the chance to parlay their grueling academic work into admissions at prestigious schools, and saving their parents thousands of dollars by receiving academic scholarships, according to reporting by journalist Asra Nomani, who broke the story.
Parent Shawna Yashar, who discovered that her son was affected, told Nomani that a school counselor indicated that the failure to notify students of the prestigious award was a deliberate choice, part of the school system’s commitment to “equity.”
Yashar said that the school’s Director of Student Services, Brandon Kosatka, told her on a phone call, “We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements,” and that they didn’t want to “hurt” the feelings of those who didn’t achieve so highly.
In recent years, Fairfax County schools has moved to a “merit lottery” to let students into its magnet school, following criticism that too many Asians were scoring highly on the entrance tests. The school system also paid $455,000 for “equity” training that says schools should demand “equal outcomes for every student, without exception.”
The move from objective entrance exams to a lottery using a “holistic” model — which minority activists say is designed to purge the school of Asians — is too new to have affected seniors, but as the years progress, the move from merit to social-justice-based admissions is likely to result in fewer students scoring in the top three percent nationally, a finding that could be concealed by a pattern of withholding certificates.
The school district, which is normally secretive and attempts to charge parents exorbitant fees for public records requests, issued a rare apology, with assistant superintendent Fabio Zuluaga saying, “It was a mistake to be honest.”
But after Nomani began digging into the story, she found that it appeared to be part of a pattern: her own son, who had already graduated from the school, had won the distinction without his knowledge.
Parent activists say it reflects an outright hostility to academic competition as the result of race-obsessed leftist ideology taking over school systems — even prestigious math schools. Yashar said, “Keeping these certificates from students is theft by the state.”
Elicia Brand of the local group Army of Parents demanded the firing of Bonitatibus and Kosatka, and that the regional magnet school no longer fall under the authority of Fairfax County. “Don’t be fooled into thinking this is only happening in one school, in one state,” Brand said. “Virginia is the tip of the spear, where ideologues test how much they can get away with. … This war on merit will not result in positive outcomes for anyone. Parents everywhere should use this as a cautionary tale and insist merit be required, rewarded, and loudly applauded.”
Fairfax County Public Schools brazenly defied Youngkin when he did away with mask mandates in schools, despite having claimed that the previous Democrat governor’s order requiring masks was binding.
But Youngkin followed through on a campaign promise when Miyares convened a special grand jury to investigate the apparent rape coverup in neighboring Loudoun County in response to Daily Wire reporting. Last month, the superintendent and spokesman were indicted.