School Board Tells Supreme Court TJ High School Admissions Policy Doesn't Discriminate Against Asian Americans

School Board Tells Supreme Court TJ High School Admissions Policy Doesn't Discriminate Against Asian Americans
The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, on June 8, 2021. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)
Matthew Vadum

The admissions policy of a top-notch magnet school in Virginia isn't discriminatory toward Asian American students and isn't attempting to achieve “racial balancing,” the Fairfax County School Board told the Supreme Court in response to an emergency application.

The emergency application in Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board, court file 21A590, was filed on April 8 and directed to Chief Justice John Roberts in his capacity as the high court’s overseer of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Parents originally sued, claiming a revised admission policy for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), which is run by the school board, was changed to discriminate against Asian American applicants.

The petitioner in the Supreme Court application, the Coalition for TJ, with more than 200 members, was founded in August 2020 to oppose the changes in admissions policy, which its members say discriminate against Asian American students. The group is represented by Sacramento, California-based Pacific Legal Foundation, a national public interest law firm.

The policy at TJ High removed standardized tests from the analysis and added experience factors, leading to a reduced percentage of Asian American students being accepted.

In February, U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton, who was appointed by then-President Ronald Reagan, struck down the system, holding that it “causes, and will continue to cause, a substantial racial impact.” That it “does not treat all applicants to TJ equally,” and “it is clear that Asian-American students are disproportionately harmed by the Board’s decision to overhaul TJ admissions.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit voted 2–1 on March 31 to grant the school board’s request for a stay pending appeal because changing admissions policies would inconvenience the school officials who are discriminating against Asian students.

Judge Toby Heytens, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, wrote in a concurring opinion that the school board was entitled to a stay “in no small part because of the significant logistical difficulties and time constraints associated with creating a new admissions policy, and making thousands of admissions decisions for the class of 2026 under that new policy after the application process was complete, and just as decisions were about to go out under the current one.”

In the reply (pdf) filed with the Supreme Court on April 13, the school board criticized Hilton’s decision calling it “unprecedented” and asserting the admission policy was “race-neutral.”

The policy “relies on initiatives akin to the University of Texas ‘Top Ten Percent plan’ that this Court has endorsed,” the reply states. “The court of appeals was entirely within its authority to stay the district court’s judgment. Indeed, it would have been an abuse of the court’s equitable authority to deny a stay.”

TJ is rated the best public high school in the United States by U.S. News and World Report. The school offers 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 70.2 percent of the student body, compared with whites at 20.6 percent, two or more races at 4.9 percent, Hispanics at 2.4 percent, and blacks at 1.9 percent.

Zachary Stieber contributed to this article.