ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A group of parents is planning to hold a rally ahead of a meeting with the Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent after administrators failed to properly notify students at Thomas Jefferson High School Science and Technology that they received a national merit award.
Several parent groups are demanding the termination of Principal Ann Bonitatibus and Director of Services Brandon Kosatka. They accuse the school administrators of deliberately withholding commendations from the National Merit School Corporation before college application deadlines.
Being qualified for the award from the organization can help students receive scholarships and boost their college applications since they have been recognized for their academic achievement and demonstrated success in other areas.
“To take away that kind of recognition and that motivation and encouragement from children is a criminal act for me,” Srilekha Palle, parent of a TJHSS freshman, told WUSA9.
Palle is joining other parent groups on Tuesday to hold a “Save Merit” rally outside the school at 5:30 p.m. before a meeting with Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid.
Parents are also calling on Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares to conduct a full investigation into the actions and policies of administrators and staff.
“We’re not looking for short-term solutions,” Palle said. “We want this to be a good learning lesson, so principals do not take students for granted.”
FCPS acknowledged it started to notify families only after the issue was uncovered.
Asra Nomani of Coalition for TJ wrote a piece online on Dec. 21 that said the issue came to light after parent Shawnna Yashar of Fairfax County Parents Association discovered in November that her son had been awarded a letter of commendation.
“Kids work really hard for various awards and recognition, and they should feel confident about their accomplishments, and we should be really proud of them,” Yashar told WUSA9.
Yashar said when she called Kosatka, he allegedly told her they downplayed the awards to avoid hurting other students’ feelings.
FCPS said the notification had not gone out in “any of the usual ways at Thomas Jefferson High School – either through in-person notification or email – in a timely manner.”
The district also made calls to each college where the students applied to inform them of the recognition.
“Our current understanding is that the delay at Thomas Jefferson High School this fall was a unique situation due to human error, but we will continue to examine our records in further detail,” the district said in a statement.
However, parents including Harry Jackson claim the issue has been happening for years.
“They wanted to downplay the significance of these awards to students in the name of equity so other students wouldn't have to feel bad to protect their feelings,” he said. “We do want our children to achieve their fullest potential and it's completely unacceptable to have administrators sabotage this as part of a social experiment.”
Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears also joined the conversation by calling on Governor Glenn Youngkin and AG Miyares to start an investigation.
“This is reprehensible,” she said in a tweet. “We cannot punish success in order to have ‘equal outcomes at all costs.’”
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