School Board denies admissions process was an attempt at ‘racial balancing’

Kendall Tietz, DCNF

Lawyers representing a Virginia school board denied claims that its race-based admissions policies for a top-ranked public school were an attempt at “racial balancing,” according to court documents.

“The Plan did not disproportionately disadvantage Asian Americans in the application process,” the Fairfax County School Board said in its response . “It gave them an equal opportunity to succeed—which they did. Asian-American students were by far the largest racial group among the students offered admission (54.36%); their share of offers exceeded their share of the applicant pool (48.59%).”

A federal judge found that Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHS) illegally discriminated against Asian-American students in its application process in a Feb. 25 ruling.

The parent group Coalition for TJ sued in March of 2021 to block the new admissions process and provided documents that it said proved the school board altered its policies to deliberately limit the number of Asian-American students at the school, the DCNF previously reported. As part of the new procedures, school and district leadership scrapped standardized testing requirements and lowered the mandated baseline GPA in response to public criticism over the lack of black and Hispanic students at the school.

“It sets no racial quotas, goals, or targets. And it is administered in a race-blind manner,” the school board’s response said. “Board regulations forbid consideration of race in admissions decisions, and all applications are anonymized so evaluators do not know the race of any individual applicant. The district court simply slapped the pejorative ‘racial balancing’ label on a race-neutral measure to improve geographic, socioeconomic and racial diversity, without any basis in the record.”

Under the new admissions system, TJHS also considered “experience factors” like whether an applicant attended an underrepresented middle school, was an English language learner or was eligible for free or reduced price lunches, according to emails, texts, and other documents published by Parents Defending Education (PDE).

Correspondence between board members shows admission from school officials that the new policies had an “anti asian feel.”

“It will whiten our schools and kick our [sic] Asians. How is that achieving the goals of diversity?” FCPS school board member Stella Pekarsky texted to fellow board member Abrar Omeish, according to PDE documents.

“I mean there has been an anti asian feel underlying some of this,” Omeish said in a follow-up text.

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