A group of about 5,000 community members including parents, students, and staff are suing the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Board and Superintendent Scott Braband over changes to admission procedures at magnet school Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ). The lawsuit complaint filed Wednesday argues that the changes were meant to reduce the number of Asian-American students at the school.
“FCPS’ recent overhaul of the TJ admissions process was intended to achieve Defendants’ goals of racially balancing the student population by reducing the number of Asian-American students at TJ. And it will have its desired effect,” the complaint states.
The new admissions procedures remove a standardized admission test and a $100 application fee, and institute a broader review through a “merit lottery” which requires applicants to have a 3.5 GPA, enrollment in Algebra I, residency, and submit of a “Student Portrait Sheet.”
“This was a critical part of an effort to remove barriers and inequities historically faced by students from culturally and ethnically diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, while ensuring that [TJ] maintains its top-tier academic standards. The Board also raised the minimum grade-point average and the course requirements (honors) for admission,” TJ said in a February press release.
The lawsuit complaint said the plaintiff is a coalition of community members that is majority Asian-American, and said that under new rules, the number of Asian-American students in incoming classes would be cut in half. The coalition is being represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation.
“Until this year, admission to TJ was race-blind and merit-based; requirements included a standardized test, grade-point average, completion of certain math classes, and teacher recommendations,” states a PLF press release. “This year, the [FCPS’] board and superintendent adopted an admissions policy aimed at balancing the racial groups at TJ by eliminating the admissions test and capping the number of students allowed from each of the district’s 23 middle schools. The intended result: dramatically reducing the number of Asian-American students admitted to TJ.”
In February, a Fairfax Circuit Court judge shot down a lawsuit to require TJ to keep the standardized entrance exam. According to a TJ press release, the lawsuit was based on an argument that magnet schools like TJ, called Governor’s Schools, are required to have standardized entrance exams.
Circuit Judge John Tran ruled in favor of TJ in February. He said, “The debate over standardized testing belongs to educational professionals on the national, statewide, and local levels, and should not be decided by the courts.”
The new lawsuit takes a different strategy, arguing that the new admissions policy violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
“A facially neutral state action violates the Equal Protection Clause when it is enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose,” the complaint states. “In changing the TJ admissions criteria to disadvantage Asian-American students, Defendants acted with a racially discriminatory purpose[….] Defendants have been forthright that the changes to the TJ admissions policy are intended to reduce the proportion of Asian-American students enrolled at TJ because they are ‘overrepresented’ compared to the rest of FCPS.”
“TJ’s attempts at racial balancing are not only illegal, but they also harm the children they’re supposedly trying to help,” PLF attorney Erin Wilcox said in the press release. “The government cannot choose who receives the opportunity to attend public schools based on race or ethnicity. Such actions clearly violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.”
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