Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced on Monday that he is expanding a civil rights investigation into Thomas Jefferson High School’s alleged withholding of student merit awards to the entire Fairfax County Public Schools system.
Miyares’ decision follows a Fairfax County Times report over the weekend that detailed numerous parents of Langley and Westfield high school students receiving late notice that their children were recipients of the commendations.
News out of the two high schools comes on the heels the attorney general’s launch last week of separate investigations into Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, where more than 200 students received late notices in 2022 of a National Merit Scholarship competition that “commended student” achievement.
The dearth of communication has prompted accusations of racial discrimination from parents who say TJHSST, a nationally prestigious school once led by a predominantly Asian American student body, has become more interested in fostering an environment of diversity than one of academic merit.
In a letter to FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid, Miyares said it’s “concerning that multiple schools throughout Fairfax County withheld merit awards from students. … This alleged behavior may constitute unlawful discrimination in violation of the Virginia Human Rights Act.”
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin first called on Miyares to launch an investigation into potential civil rights violations at TJHSST after a report by former Wall Street Journal reporter and activist Asra Nomani revealed a five-year pattern under the guidance of principal Ann Bonitatibus in which at least 1,200 students were impacted by award delays.
Many of the awards, given annually to the nation’s top 3 percent of standardized test takers, were delayed until early college application deadlines had already passed, the report found, dealing a significant blow to students seeking scholarships from top universities.
Current TJHSST parent and lawyer Shawnna Yashar, whose son was among the affected students, told Nomani that school administrators told her the award delays stemmed from two school officials who “didn’t want to ‘hurt’ the feelings of students who didn’t get the award.”
In a statement addressing the initial report, officials from Fairfax County Public Schools attributed the mishaps to “a unique situation due to human error.”
Parents, however, are not buying the county’s explanation.
“Keeping these certificates from students is theft by the state,” Yashar told Nomani.
To assist with the investigation, Miyares ordered the county to “preserve all relevant documents and suspend any automatic deletion policies applicable to relevant documents or custodians.”
Any failure to cooperate, he added, will result in a subpoena.
In an email to FCPS parents on Monday, Reid said the school system “continues to stand ready to work with our partners at the state level on their investigation,” and that she had “proactively communicated” the new information about the delays at Langley and Westfield to Miyares’ office.
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