Judge Overturns Elite Virginia High School Admissions Rules
In June, statistics on the incoming class became public, and the percentage of black students admitted was so low that the school’s official breakdown of class demographics only reported it as a series. asterisks. It came as protests unfolded across the country over the killing of George Floyd and demands for racial justice grew louder.
In an email to the TJ community, school principal Ann Bonitatibus wrote that “we each have a responsibility to our community to speak up and take action to address racism,” adding that the TJ community “did not reflect the racial makeup” in Fairfax County public schools.
Over the next few months, the Fairfax County School Board considered various changes to the admissions process in a series of meetings that the Coalition for TJ said were rushed and lacked transparency — an argument with which the judge finally accepted. In October, the council voted to scrap the requirement for standardized tests, prompting immediate objections from parents, many of whom had paid large sums for test preparation courses, and former pupils who believed it would damage the reputation of the school as a rigorous academic power.
In December, the board approved the new admissions process, which in addition to guaranteeing eligibility for students from every college in the school system, added four “experience factors,” such as whether students were economically disadvantaged or learning English.
The school argued in court that the factors it intended to address included many other factors besides race – as a result of the changes, for example, the percentage of economically disadvantaged pupils rose from less from 1% to over a quarter of the incoming class. But Judge Hilton, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, was unconvinced, arguing that internal emails and messages, as well as racial data viewed by board members, “clearly indicate that diversity meant above all racial diversity”.
The school board could have achieved this through other measures, such as increasing the size of TJ’s student body or offering free test prep classes, he wrote. But the policy designed by the school “to increase black and Hispanic enrollment,” he wrote, “would, of necessity, decrease the representation of Asian Americans.”
Julia McCaskill, who has three daughters at Fairfax County schools – including two at TJ – said parents gathered outside the school following Judge Hilton’s ruling, throwing a small party despite the cold.