Judge rules new, diversity-focused admissions policy at top Virginia public school discriminatory

The admissions requirements reduced the number of Asian-American students by 19%.
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Judge's gavel
Judge's gavel
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A federal judge ruled Friday that new admissions requirements by Fairfax County school officials for the top public school in the country discriminated against Asian-American students.

A lawsuit was filed last March by a coalition of parents, students, alumni, and community members challenging the new admissions requirements for the county's Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, considered one of the most competitive public high schools in the country.

Before last year, the admissions process was merit-based, focusing on grade-point average, standardized test results, teacher recommendations and completion of certain math classes.

However, last year the county public school board changed the admissions requirements to adjust the racial composition of the school.

According to the judge's decision, the new standards included "attendance at a middle school deemed historically underrepresented" at the technical high school, "eligibility for free and reduced price meals; status as an English language learner; and status as a special education student."

As a result of the changes, admission offers made to Asian-American students were reduced by 19%, from 73% for the previous two classes to 54%.

"The undisputed evidence demonstrates precisely how the Board's actions caused, and will continue to cause, a substantial racial impact," Judge Claude Hilton of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, wrote in his decision. "The Board instituted a system that does not treat all applicants to [Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology] equally."

The judge also stated the admissions changes followed a bill that was passed by the Virginia General Assembly requiring "Governor's Schools to submit a report to the governor on the existence of and progress towards diversity goals" and "the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020."

"This is a monumental win for parents and students here in Fairfax County, but also for equal treatment in education across the country," said Erin Wilcox, an attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the coalition. "We hope this ruling sends the message that government cannot choose who receives the opportunity to attend public schools based on race or ethnicity."