National Merit scores have allegedly been withheld "for years" to protect the feelings of students who didn't score as well at a top Northern Virginia high school—in the name of an "equitable outcomes" agenda. Parents at the high-achieving high school are frustrated with the policy.
A Dec. 27, 2022 press release reveals principal Ann Bonitatibus and director of student services Brandon Kosatka at Thomas Jefferson (TJ) High School for Science and Technology "withheld notifying parents and students about Commended Student awards for years." Parent Shawna Yashar reported Kosatka told her "he admitted withholding information [intentionally] from parents and students" to avoid "hurt" feelings. Kosatka allegedly told Yashar he "want[ed] to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements."
Parents in the district held a "Save Merit" rally on Jan. 3 to protest the policy. Governor Glenn Youngkin told Tucker Carlson on Tuesday's show that he would continue to protect parental rights in Virginia. Youngkin said he was "stunned by news reports" of the allegations and has asked Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares to open an investigation. Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears stated, "This is a new year, but man, I tell you, sometimes it feels like it's the same Hell."
On Wednesday, Miyares announced his office is opening an investigation to investigate the potential civil rights violations that may have occurred. He believes the actions to be "unlawful." Miyares said:
"To the extent that withholding of any of these awards at Thomas Jefferson High School was based on race, national origin or any other protected status right under the Virginia Human Rights Act, that is unlawful. That is why I am announcing today that my office of civil rights is opening an investigation into this very issue."
Sierra Fox reports that Fairfax County Public Schools released a statement promising to investigate the matter. The statement also said their "preliminary understanding was that the delay this fall was a unique situation due to human error."
According to the press release, "most TJ students" are designated as gifted and many are "racial minorities, many with disabilities, and most from immigrant families whose parents speak English as a second language." Some parents at the school believe their students have "suffered due to being deprived of access to scholarship money" and plan to "pursue legal action."
Principal Committed to SEL Policies
Principal Bonitatibus has pushed for Social Emotional Learning (SEL) policies that promote "affirming experiences and produce equal outcomes for every student without exception." Her goal is to ensure students have a "joyful learning experience." Bonitatibus rolled out the red carpet for students on the first day of school.
According to thecollegefix.com, Fairfax County schools paid "$455,000 to Oakland, California's Performance Fact to "analyze student data to identify trends and recommendations in support of the development of strategic goals," according to documents obtained by Asra Nomani, a parent activist whose son graduated from the school in 2021. The agenda is one to which Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendant Michelle Reid is very committed. The contract runs through June 2023.
Parents Write Letters Critical of School Administration
Parents directly affected by the SEL policies at the high school wrote letters in response to the actions of the administrators. Many of the parents represent minority and immigrant communities. The excerpts from the parent letters found below indicate frustration with what seems to be an emphasis on feelings over achievement by administrators in the district. One parent, Ying Julia McCaskill—an immigrant from China—wrote that policies emphasizing equity "lower the standard and bring everyone down."
Ying Julia McCaskill/mother of two students at TJ High
Other parents praised the Governor and Attorney General Miyares for their "refreshing" advocacy of parental rights:
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Saundra Davis, a parent of a student in the Fairfax County Public schools, warned of the harmful and broadly impactful implications of ignoring what is happening in the county's schools. Her child is a recognized National Merit Commended Scholar at Robinson Secondary School. She writes, "more citizens need to open their eyes because merit matters":
"Some may be tempted to ignore this revelation, thinking that it's just the 'smart kids' at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, so it's not relatable to their daily lives. I submit to the people of Fairfax County that if we let the administration take down this flagship school, so goes the fleet of other schools. These shenanigans are meant to trickle down until many more are affected. School administrators are using public schools to 'level the playing field' and to bring about 'equal outcomes.' That impacts everyone. More citizens need to open their eyes because merit matters."