The Virginia Office of the Attorney General (OAG) filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to deny a stay after a district court ruled that the admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson (TJ) High School for Science and Technology is discriminatory.
“Thomas Jefferson High School has been consistently among the top public schools in the country, and they created and maintained this achievement with a merit-based admissions process. But over the past year, Thomas Jefferson High School changed their policy to prioritize an individual’s race over merit. By doing so, Thomas Jefferson High School has discriminated against deserving students and violated the Equal Protection Clause. This is not equality,” Attorney General Jason Miyares said in a Wednesday press release.
In 2020, officials at the school instituted a merit lottery to try to expand the largely Asian-American student base to underrepresented groups while still maintaining a high standard. Conservatives saw that as part of a broader wave of watered-down academic standards in the name of equity, and Republicans campaigned in 2021 on restoring Virginia’s educational standards of excellence. At the end of February, a judge ruled that practices at TJ discriminated against Asian students, leading the Fairfax County School Board to appeal and ask for a temporary stay of the lower court’s decision.
“Judge Hilton’s ruling is highly damaging. Failing to challenge it would jeopardize race-neutral diversity efforts not just within Fairfax County Public Schools or at TJ, but also within public education more broadly,” states a March 16 press release from Fairfax County Public Schools. “The School Board believes that Judge Hilton’s decision does not reflect extensive federal case law that supports race-neutral admissions and is asking the federal appeals court to review the decision.”
The school said, “Change for the right reason is always difficult. While there were struggles and challenges along the way, the admissions data for the Class of 2025 reflects the school division’s efforts to achieve greater access and opportunity throughout the county.
The school wants the appeals court to stay the ruling so that it can finish the selection of the next incoming class.
Although the OAG is not an official party in the case, an amicus curiae brief allows Miyares and his team to offer legal arguments to the court for consideration. The brief argues that the FCPS Board hasn’t met the legal conditions required for the appeals court to grant the stay: a strong showing that the board’s argument will succeed, that FCPS would be irreparably injured without the stay, that the stay wouldn’t harm other parties, and that the public interest favors a stay.
“Granting the stay would force Asian–American students to face unconstitutional and irreparable racial discrimination,” the brief states.
“The Board contends that reverting to its previous admissions policy is not an option because two of the three tests upon which TJ previously evaluated candidates are no longer commercially available,” the brief states, adding later, “At the very least, the Board could easily eliminate the set–aside and end its consideration of whether an applicant attends a ‘historically underrepresented’ middle school as an ‘Experience Factor,’ both policies that the district court found disproportionately discriminated against Asian–American students.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Thomas Jefferson High School” by Thomas Jefferson High School.