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Fairfax County School Board files appeal to ruling over Thomas Jefferson High School admissions policy

A U.S. district judge ruled the overhauled admissions process for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology discriminates against Asian students.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Fairfax County School Board has filed an appeal to challenge a ruling that would prevent the school district from implementing a current admissions process at one of the most prestigious and competitive high schools. 

U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton recently ruled the admissions policy, which took effect in December 2020 following an equity review, for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology discriminates against Asian American students. 

He also denied a request from the board for a temporary stay of order to allow the application process from thousands of students for the Class of 2026 to continue without any disruptions. 

Hilton said it "does not treat all applications to TJ equally." The decision also read "Asian American students are disproportionately harmed" and "disproportionately deprived of a level playing field."

"Judge Hilton’s ruling is highly damaging," the school board in a statement. "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."

"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 statement added.

School board officials stressed the change to the process was developed to create greater access and opportunity for students throughout the county. They overhauled the protocols by removing the standardized admissions test and the $100 application fee. Board members also approved raising the minimum GPA, expanding the freshman class from 480 to 550 and allocated them for the top 1.5% of applications from every middle school.

"The intent of the school division was to design a process that removes systemic screening barriers that have historically impacted talented students from diverse backgrounds," the school board said. "Equity of access ensures that all applicants with the potential and aptitude - regardless of circumstance or background - have the opportunity to attend this Governor’s School."

Opponents including the parent group Coalition for TJ argued admissions should be based on merit alone. The group filed a lawsuit against the school district by claiming the decision was discriminatory.

"They were so myopically focused from a jealousy-infused xenophobia to reduce the number of Asian students in the school," TJ High School parent Harry Jackson told WUSA9. "They've [Hilton] identified that this process they used and implemented is racist and you can't solve racism with more racism and you can't double down."

Since the admission process changed, the Class of 2025 saw more applications and students accepted from all middle schools and historically underrepresented schools. The makeup of the student demographic also changed with an increase in Black, Hispanic and white students. Asian students saw a decline per FCPS data.

  • Black students increased from 1.23% (2020-21) to 7.09%  
  • Hispanic students increased from 3.29% (2020-21) to 11.27%  
  • White students increased from 17.70% (2020-21) to 22.36%  
  • Asian students continue to constitute a majority of the class at 54.36%, a decrease from 73.05% (2020-21) 

The Fairfax County School Board filed its appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

RELATED: Admissions policies discriminate at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County, judge says

RELATED: FCPS lawsuit over controversial admissions policy scheduled for court hearing next week

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