Courtroom Battles Continue As Students Await TJ Results

“The results were supposed to come out in early April. Then they moved the date to April 21. Now they’re expected to come out in late May. I’m not even sure if they’ll be out before the school year ends,” said Jacob H. with frustration.

Jacob is an applicant for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), but his status for acceptance to the school was postponed due to a lawsuit against TJ regarding the school’s controversial new admissions process. Begun by the Coalition for TJ, an association of parents who are primarily Asian immigrants, the lawsuit reached the U.S. Supreme court on April 8, 2022. The decision went against the Coalition for TJ and ruled that the new admission process may remain in place. 

TJHSST, widely known as TJ, was established in 1985 in Alexandria to improve the teaching of science, mathematics, and technology. The school holds partnerships with multiple businesses and is funded by the Virginia Department of Education; it is one of only nineteen ‘Governor’s Schools’ in Virginia that serve gifted students. 

However, the extra funding became attainable only under certain conditions, which the Secretary stipulated in 2020: Governor’s Schools must come up with ways to increase diversity among their enrollment. TJ was required to change its admission process, and Scott Brabrand, then Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), announced the reform proposal on September 15, 2020. Claiming that “there has been over-reliance upon the current admissions test, which tends to reflect upon the socioeconomic background of test-takers or the ability of students to obtain private test preparation instead of students’ true academic potential,” the new proposal, ironically, has been said to discriminate against Asian-American students.

The school’s previous admission process did not judge any of the applicants’ backgrounds but only their academic abilities. An application test, a decent middle school GPA, completion of certain math classes, and a teacher recommendation were all that was needed to apply to TJ. Now, the school has eliminated the test and is trying to limit the number of students from each middle school in the district. Three schools most affected by these adjustments happened to be schools that most of TJ’s Asian-American students attended. 

According to the Washington Post, Mr. Verma, both an IT expert and parent of a TJ applicant, analyzed the predicted impact of the new process using publicly available data. His projection found that the proportion of qualified Asian-American students would decline by 42%, while no other racial groups would lose their seats. Feeling that they were stabbed in the back, affected students and their families came together to form the ‘Coalition for TJ’ to fight the school’s present policy. 

The group’s legislative journey began about two years ago when they started their first petition to then-Governor Ralph S. Northam to keep the previous merit-based admission policy at TJ. Students and parents gathered on TJ’s grounds the following month, protesting the new policies by holding signs that read, “Lottery has no place in schools.” The school also became aware of the disapproval within the community, but nothing much was done until November 2020. 

Seventeen families filed a petition in Fairfax County Circuit Court against FCPS following the dropped admissions test and application fee, saying that the decision to remove the test goes against a Virginia law regulating Governor’s Schools. Then on March 10, 2021, the Coalition for TJ filed a second complaint, this time to the Eastern District Court of VA. They targeted the entire admissions process, not only the removal of the test. Months passed as both sides filed numerous petitions in court, and on February 25, 2022, U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton ruled in favor of the Coalition for TJ. 

Judge Hilton further stated that “the admissions process discriminates against Asian-Americans and constitutes an illegal act of racial balancing.” 

FCPS did not recognize that this ruling was supported by law. They said that they would consider a federal appeal to review the decision. 

The situation took a negative turn for FCPS due to legislation introduced by Delegate Glenn Davis back in January. The law, which would ban racial and other forms of discrimination during the admissions process in the state’s Governor’s Schools, was passed by the Virginia Generally Assembly on March 9. It is now headed to Governor Glenn Youngkin to be signed. If signed, the law would nullify TJ’s current admission process, and the school would have to come up with a new plan. 

With only a couple of weeks left before the scheduled announcement of admission results, it was practically impossible to comply. Therefore, the Fairfax County School Board (FCSB) filed a motion to stay two days later, asking to postpone all legal proceedings, but Judge Davis denied the request. 

Inevitably, FCSB filed an appeal regarding the district court’s decision. The case headed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This court granted the case a stay, which meant that the admissions program could still be carried out while legal battles continued. In response, ‘Coalition for TJ’ issued an Emergency Application to the Supreme Court to “vacate the stay,” pending an appeal issued by the circuit court. 

That means that the group requested a reinstating of the circuit court’s decision, which would once again put the process on hold.  However, the Supreme Court denied this appeal without publicly releasing any reasoning for their ruling, a common outcome for Emergency Applications. 

Hence, TJ can carry on with its current admissions process until the circuit court decides that it will resume its legal procedures. Coalition for TJ said in response, “our struggle for justice is not over [and] we are not at all dissuaded.” 

They will now wait for the circuit court to be back in business in September when an oral argument is scheduled to be heard. Depending on what the circuit court decides, there is a possibility that the case will visit the Supreme Court once again.