Federal Judge Allows Racial Discrimination Suit Against Virginia School Board to Go Ahead

May 23, 2021 Updated: May 24, 2021

A parents’ group may proceed with its lawsuit claiming new admissions policies at an elite public high school in Fairfax County, Virginia, discriminate against Asian Americans, a federal judge ruled.

The civil rights lawsuit, Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board, was filed in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on March 10 by the Sacramento, California-based Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a national public interest law firm.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology was rated the best public high school in the United States in April by U.S. News and World Report. The school houses 9th through 12th grades, with a total enrollment of 1,781, and has a student-to-teacher ratio of 18–1. The student body is 59 percent male and 41 percent female. Asians make up 70 percent of the student body, compared to whites at 21 percent, two or more races at 5 percent, blacks at 2 percent, and Hispanics at 2 percent.

The board recently overhauled TJ’s admission process by eliminating “the long-standing race-neutral standardized admissions test,” the legal complaint said.

The local news website Patch.com said the district will adopt “a holistic review ‘of students whose applications demonstrate enhanced merit.’” The top 1.5 percent of students from eligible middle schools may apply for admission.

The school district’s alleged race-based admissions policy drew opposition from the Coalition for TJ, a group of over 5,000 parents, students, alumni, staff, and community members who are advocating for school diversity and excellence through race-blind, merit-based admissions, according to a PLF summary.

The coalition of parents claims the board’s new admissions initiative was recently enacted to reduce the number of Asian American children—and only Asian American children—who can attend Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and that the new policy violates the 14th Amendment.

“School district officials have made no secret that their clear and unequivocal objective is to reduce the number of Asian American students at TJ,” PLF said.

The coalition’s lawyers also asked the court at the May 21 hearing to preliminarily enjoin the board from enforcing the admission policy, but that request was denied. The board’s motion to dismiss the case was also denied.

Board lawyer Stuart Raphael told U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton that the revised admissions policy is race-neutral and that those who process the admissions requests are not aware of applicants’ race, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Federal court rulings allow a school to act based on a desire to increase the black and Hispanic student population, provided that they lack an intention to discriminate against Asian Americans, he said.

PLF attorney Erin Wilcox, who represents the Coalition for TJ, rejected Raphael’s arguments.

“There are a finite number of seats at TJ,” Wilcox said. “You cannot intend to increase the seats for one race without knowing it will decrease the seats for another race.”

U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton said the claim that the admissions policy was race-neutral was not believable.

“Everybody knows the policy is not race-neutral, and that it’s designed to affect the racial composition of the school,” he said. “You can say all sorts of beautiful things while you’re doing others.”

The judge said he wouldn’t grant the injunction to pause the admissions policy because doing so would have been too disruptive to the school board. The review of applications for the coming academic year is almost finished, and students will learn next month if they have been admitted under the new policy, Raphael said.

In response to The Epoch Times, Lucy H. Caldwell, director of news and information, Fairfax County Public Schools, issued a statement: “We are pleased that the judge has allowed the holistic admissions process for TJ to move forward, ensuring that students with an aptitude and passion for STEM can access the school. We will continue to vigorously defend our efforts as the rest of the case proceeds.”