Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin on Tuesday called for an investigation into why National Merit Scholar awards were denied to students for years at a nationally recognized high school in Fairfax County.
The Republican Governor has asked Attorney General Jason Miyares to look into why more than 1,200 students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology were not alerted to their prestigious awards.
The practice took place as recently as last fall, according to a December report by the City Journal, when students were alerted to their commendations after some elite colleges’ early application deadlines expired.
“We need to get to the bottom of what appears to be a blatant and deliberate attempt to disadvantage top-performing students at one of the nation’s top schools,” Youngkin said in a press release. “Parents and students deserve answers and Attorney General Miyares will launch a full investigation. I believe that this failure may have caused material harm to these students and their parents, and that this failure may have violated Virginia human rights law.
Students are designated as National Merit Scholars when they score in the top 3% nationally on the PSAT. The award gives a huge boost to a student’s college applications and ability to compete for lucrative scholarships.
The City Journal report, written by the parent of a Thomas Jefferson graduate, detailed how some families discovered their child had been named a National Merit Scholar years after the fact.
This fall, 240 students at the top-rated school learned they were being congratulated when teachers unceremoniously presented them with certificates at their desks.
The National Merit Program only notifies schools if they have students who have earned the honor, and schools typically announce their award winners publicly or throw a party for them. But principal Ann Bonitatibus and other Thomas Jefferson administrators reportedly chose to spread the news quietly so as not to hurt the feelings of students who were not selected as winners.
“We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their accomplishments,” Brandon Kosatka, the director of student services, told a parent when confronted with the omission. , according to the City Journal report.
The sluggish — or outright restrained — reviews of the National Merit Awards are said to be reflected in the school’s desire to achieve “equal results for all students, without exception,” a policy Thomas Jefferson adopted as he approached of the 2020-2021 school year.
Fabio Zuluaga, the assistant superintendent of schools in Fairfax County, told the City Journal that Thomas Jefferson mishandled the news.
“We have to do something special,” Zuluaga told the City Journal. “A commendation sends a very strong message to the child, doesn’t it? Your work has meaning. If you work hard in life, there are good benefits to that.
After parents began raising the issue of National Merit with Thomas Jefferson administrators last month, Mr Kosatka reportedly sent an email Dec. 12 to parents of National Merit students apologizing for not sharing news at the time.
Ms. Bonitatibus has a history of promoting equity-based policies at the elite high school.
During the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, she emailed students and parents urging them to consider “the privileges you have that others cannot”. A federal judge ruled earlier this year that the prestigious school changed its admissions rules to restrict the number of Asian Americans in a bid to “racial diversity.”
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology was top ranked as the best high school in the nation in 2022 by US News & World Report.