Federal Judge Rules Against High School’s ‘Patently Unconstitutional’ Racial Admission Policy

Federal Judge Rules Against High School’s ‘Patently Unconstitutional’ Racial Admission Policy
Stock photo of two Asian young women. (StartupStockPhotos/Pixabay)
Naveen Athrappully

A federal judge has ruled against an elite Virginia high school’s revised admissions policy pushing for “racial equity,” judging it discriminatory against Asian American students.

The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), which focuses on the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, is a Governor’s School in the Fairfax County Public Schools system. It requires prospective students to go through a rigorous entrance exam; Asian students have secured the most admissions, making up roughly 72 percent of students in the 2020–21 school year.

Before the new admission system was introduced in fall 2020, applicants for TJ were required to fulfill five criteria: They had to reside in one of the five participating school divisions, have a minimum core 3.0 grade point average, be enrolled in eighth grade, be enrolled in or have completed Algebra I, and pay a $100 application fee.

The applicants then had to go through standardized tests—ACT Inspire Reading, ACT Inspire Science, and Quant-Q. Students who attained minimum scores moved forward into a semifinalist pool from which they were granted admission based on their test scores, GPA, teacher recommendations, and responses to a problem-solving essay and three writing prompts.

In the new system, the standardized tests were removed and the minimum requirements to apply altered. To be eligible for admissions, students had to meet four new criteria. They needed a GPA of 3.5, they had to register in an honors science course, enroll in a full-year honors Algebra I course or higher, and sign up for at least one more honors course or the Young Scholars program.

The next-stage evaluation was changed to a one-round holistic evaluation. It looked at the student’s GPA, a student portrait sheet, a problem-solving essay, and “experience factors” that include attendance at a middle school deemed historically underrepresented at TJ, and eligibility for free and reduced-price meals.

As a consequence, the proportion of Asian American students admitted to TJ declined. For the class of 2025, the first year of class at the school under the new admission policy, the number of students admitted increased by 64.

However, TJ admitted 56 fewer Asian American students compared to the prior year, according to a lawsuit filed against the school by a coalition of students, alumni, and parents represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF).

For each of the previous five years, Asian Americans comprised at least 65 percent of the admitted class, with a 73 percent admission rate for the 2024 class. But for the 2025 class, the admission rate for Asian American students slipped to 54 percent.

In the judgment, U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton ruled that the board instituted “a system that does not treat all applicants to TJ equally,” warning that the move would have a “substantial” racial impact.

“It is clear that Asian-American students are disproportionately harmed by the Board’s decision to overhaul TJ admissions. Currently and in the future, Asian-American applicants are disproportionately deprived of a level playing field in competing for both allocated and unallocated seats,” Hilton wrote.

“Placing the Board’s actions in historical context leaves little doubt that its decision to overhaul the TJ admissions process was racially motivated,” he added, pointing out that racial balancing for its own sake was “patently unconstitutional” and that the school board can’t transform racial balancing into a “compelling interest” just by relabeling it as “diversity.”

PLF attorney Erin Wilcox called the decision a “monumental win” for students and parents as well as for equal treatment in education across the United States.

“We hope this ruling sends the message that government cannot choose who receives the opportunity to attend public schools based on race or ethnicity.”

The admissions office of Thomas Jefferson High School didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

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