Judge Declares TJ’s New Admission Policy Discriminatory

Annabella Agosto, Feature Editor

Named after the third president of the United States, known for its outstanding academics, and the current top-ranked public high school in America, is FCPS’ very own Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, commonly referred to as TJ. Despite this, the school’s stellar reputation in math and science has long been tainted by another notable aspect: a significant lack of diversity. 

Graphic by Zainab Rentia.

Ever since TJ was established in 1985, and prior to the removal of the admissions test in 2020, the school maintained a consistent failure to admit a diverse range of minority students. In 2011, the admission pool of students was 56.9 percent Asian and 33.5 percent white, with every other minority category falling below 7 percent. Eight years later, in 2019, the divide became even wider as the admission pool rose to 72.9 percent Asian and 19 percent White, while every other category combined was reported at around 7 percent. This is changing, however, as the TJ community gathered in various activist groups over the past two years to demand reforms to the admissions process, even going as far as to take legal action against the FCPS school board. 

In December, 2020, after hearing from many community advocates, including Coalition for TJ members, and following a detailed school

board discussion, the TJ School Board voted to change the admission policy to a holistic review process. TJ said a holistic review “will be done of students whose applications demonstrate enhanced merit, which includes being enrolled in Algebra I in eighth grade as well as demonstrating strong preparedness for TJ through enrollment in honors classes.” Students were to be evaluated on:

  • Grade point average (GPA)
  • A portrait sheet where they would be asked to demonstrate Portrait of a Graduate attributes and 21st century skills
  • A problem-solving essay
  • Experience factors, (including students who are economically disadvantaged, English language learners, special education students, or students who were currently attending underrepresented middle schools)
Parents protesting the new admissions process.
Photo still from ABC7 News video by Zainab Rentia.

Last March, the Coalition for TJ filed an official legal complaint and demanded a jury trial against the Fairfax County School Board. The Coalition’s eventual federal lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the government cannot use race or ethnicity to choose who gets to attend public schools, and therefore claimed the new holistic review policy to be a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. It was not until February 25, that the Coalition saw success as U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton ruled the admissions system to be discriminatory against Asian Americans. Hilton contended that TJ’s effort to increase African American and Latino representation constituted the illegal act of “racial balancing.” “At least in part, the purpose of the Board’s admissions overhaul was to change the racial makeup [of] TJ to the detriment of Asian-Americans,” Hilton wrote. 

FCPS said that it will be considering an appeal. Because of this, the future of the TJ admissions policy, as well as that of the class of 2026, which has already begun this year’s admission process, remains uncertain.