Payam Javan: In a recent ruling, a federal appeals court has upheld the admissions procedures at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the premier public high school in Virginia. The court found that the Fairfax County School Board did not engage in discrimination against Asian students by attempting to lower their enrollment. This decision overturns a lower court’s ruling from last year, which had deemed the board’s actions unlawful and unfair.
Thomas Jefferson High School has long been renowned for its fiercely competitive, merit-based admissions process, which is blind to race. Over the years, students from Asian immigrant families have constituted a significant majority, accounting for approximately 70% of the student population. However, in response to national conversations about racism following George Floyd’s death, the school board implemented changes to the admissions procedure in 2020. These changes included eliminating high-stakes standardized tests and allocating a specific number of seats for each middle school’s 8th-grade class in Fairfax County.
The revised admissions process resulted in a notable decrease in the number of Asian students admitted to Thomas Jefferson High School. While they comprised 73% of the Class of 2024, they accounted for only 44% of the Class of 2025. Meanwhile, the proportion of black students increased from 1% to 7%, and Hispanic students from 3% to 11%. Additionally, the proportion of white students rose from just under 18% to 22%. The modifications prompted a federal lawsuit, filed by the Coalition for TJ, an organization representing parents, alleging discrimination against Asian Americans based on race.
With this recent ruling by the appeals court, the admissions procedures at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology will remain unchanged. The decision has drawn attention and sparked discussions about affirmative action, equal opportunity, and diversity in the highly competitive realm of public education.