FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — A lawsuit against Fairfax County Public Schools over its admission practices at a highly selective high school in Alexandria is scheduled before a federal judge next week, according to the plaintiff.
The Pacific Legal Foundation initially filed the lawsuit in March on behalf of Coalition for TJ, a grassroots group of Fairfax County residents. They accused FCPS of discriminating against Asian Americans by revamping the admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology to bring in more Black and Hispanic students.
The school board overhauled the process in late 2020 to get rid of the standardized admissions test and 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.
Opponents argued the change, which took effect in 2021, unfairly targeted Asian American students who have largely made up the school’s demographic by focusing on racial balance instead of merit.
“The fix for the achievement gap is not to lower the standards of academics especially for those students who are most academically advanced, its to uplift students,” Asra Nomani of Parents Defending Education and Coalition for TJ told WUSA9. “What the school board did was a lazy solution and not only was it lazy, but it was racist and bigoted against the mostly Asian and mostly immigrant communities who go to TJ.”
FCPS said the admission process for 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)
Nomani pointed to what she said are new documents recently released in the lawsuit that suggests school board members were aware of the anti-Asian undertone. She specifically claimed a text exchange between board chair Stella Pekarsky and board member Abrar Omeish.
Pekarsky texted Omeish that the new admissions proposal ‘will whiten our schools and kick our Asians. How is that achieving the goals of diversity?’
Omeish wrote, “I mean there has been an anti-Asian feel underlying some of this, hate to say it lol.”
Omeish later said, “Of course it is…They’re discriminated against in this process too.”
Pekarsky responded to the released text exchanging by saying the organizer of the group behind the lawsuit took the messages ‘wildly out of context’ and published them on social media. She said the messages show the Board doing its job of vetting staff proposals.
“The true context shows Board members up to their elbows in doing the hard, messy work of tackling the severe and persistent disparities in access to the nation’s number one high school for students from underserved groups, including economically disadvantaged, neurodiverse, Black, and Hispanic students,” Pekarsky said in a statement to WUSA9. “The Board was committed to eliminating barriers of access to TJ for academically exceptional students that have nothing to do with merit, while also determined to ensure that the TJ application process be blind to race, gender, and ethnicity. It is ironic that the plaintiffs have cherry-picked text messages that show Board members were concerned about the interests of Asian student applicants, and the possible impact of a proposed system-wide lottery. The plaintiffs’ group led the cry against the lottery as “anti-Asian,” but now appears to be criticizing the Board for sharing their concerns.”
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