Admission Controversy at Thomas Jefferson High School

Recently, there have been protests advocating for the removal of merit-based admissions at Virginia state-chartered magnet school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. The school was founded in 1985, and has since been known for its academic performance. Though as of late, it has failed to include diversity in its student body.

Students must pass a merit-based test in order to compete for a highly competitive spot at the school. Requirements as of 2021 included standardized tests, 3.5-4.0 grade-point average, completion of specific math courses, and recommendations from teachers. Alongside curricular requirements, there is a $100 attendance fee. 

According to the Fairfax County Times, Federal Judge Claude Hilton “issued a 31-page ruling Fairfax County Public Schools violated the law by changing admission requirements [to reduce the number of Asian-American students enrolled]”. Emails were exchanged between the School Board and FCPS officials to argue otherwise: that the decision was not meant to disadvantage the Asian-American students.

The Washington Post editorial board found the process to be ignorant towards race, gender, and national origin, and that it was “anachronistic”. They wrote that the entrance exam and fees were socioeconomic disadvantages to students. FCPS tried to improve and revise the merit method of the school. TJ Alumni Action Group states that students should be allowed admission to the school regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background.

The student body of TJ is composed of 2.6% Hispanics, 1.7% Black, 0.9% disabled students, 2.4% free and reduced price lunch students. Whereas, The Fairfax County Student body is 25.9% Hispanic, 9.8% Black, 14.7% of students are disabled, and 29% of students have free and reduced priced lunch. The percentage of Asian students who were admitted in the class of 2025, still align with the historical trends that were dating back at least 17 years prior. According to the WTOP, “Black and Hispanic students [were still] underrepresented within the student body.” Under the new policies, Asian representation went from 73-54% whereas, Blacks went from one to seven percent and Hispanic students increased from three to 11%.

“The lack of diversity at [Thomas Jefferson] is a visible display of discrimination within Fairfax County Public Schools failing to educate students of colors such as African-Americans to the same standard of white students,” stated Kofi Annan, the former NAACP Fairfax Chapter President. Since the high school is known for being advanced in both math and science, it would make sense for the admission standards to be higher. Annan also stated, “Fairfax County has the power to even out the playing field and provide the opportunity to enroll Black students into TJ. Black scholars can [achieve anything] when provided with the [opportunity to do so].”

Despite Fairfax County having a diverse student body, the county has said that the new admission policies were intended to be race-neutral. FCPS wanted to increase the quantity of Black and Hispanic students attending TJ; they have stated that they had no intent of harming the Asian-American population. John Foster, an FCPS lawyer, said that the county will consider an appeal of the judge’s ruling.