Virginia AG Launches Probe Into High School That Reportedly Denied Students Merit Awards

Brittany M. Hughes | January 4, 2023
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The office of Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares has launched an official investigation into the “equity” policies at a prestigious public school after bombshell allegations surfaced claiming the school had intentionally been withholding coveted National Merit awards from students who’d earned them.

For years.

Miyares announced Wednesday that state prosecutors with the AG’s Office of Civil Rights are looking into Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax and whether the school deliberately denied high school students the National Merit awards they’d achieved. The investigation comes after multiple parents of TJHS students - including many who’ve already graduated - weren’t told that their child had been given the award marking them on of the nation’s highest-achieving scholars.

That’s what one mom in Fairfax, Virginia, says recently happened to her family at TJHS, which is ranked as the country’s top high school.

Shawna Yashar said her son started at TJHS in 2019, and spent the next two years busting his butt to earn top grades in the school’s most difficult courses. After taking the PSAT last fall, he earned a coveted spot as a National Merit scholar, one of about 50,000 students ranked as having placed among the top 3% of students across the entire country. There was just one problem - administrators at the school never told him he'd earned the award.

In a phone call to the school administration to demand accountability, Yashar said Kosatka told her that administrators “want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements,” saying that handing out Merit awards might “hurt” the feelings of students who hadn’t earned them.

After news broke that the school had been intentionally withholding Merit awards, the administration began scrambling to do damage control, recently sending out emails to those students who’d earned the award this previous fall apologizing for what they claim was an oversight. Kosatka then told the Daily Caller in an article published this week that the mistake was a “one-time human error in the fall of 2022 only.” But several parents say their child was denied the award as early as 2019. In fact, the school has reportedly been withholding the award for at least five years, affecting at least 1,200 students.

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It was also revealed last week that, while allegedly withholding students’ awards in the name of “equity,” Fairfax County Public Schools was forking out nearly half a million in taxpayer cash to a California-based company called “Performance Fact, Inc.” in a 9-month, no-bid contract for “equity” data collection and analysis. A slideshow from the company shows the goal is not only to provide “equitable access” for all students, but also to promote “equal outcomes for every student, without exception.”

In announcing the investigation, Miyares blasted the school for secretly denying students what they’d earned in the name of racial inclusion.

“No student should be treated differently because of their race. Students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology are amongst the brightest in the nation, yet some have been punished in the name of ‘equity.’ Racism and race-based government decision-making in any form is wrong and unlawful under Virginia’s Human Rights Act,” he said.

Miyares also addressed claims that the school had nixed its longstanding and notoriously difficult entrance exam and replaced it with “experience”-based considerations in order to forcibly lower its percentage of Asian-American students, which had made up about 73% of the school’s population at the time.

“The controversial admissions policies at [TJ], which have significantly decreased the amount of Asian American students enrolled in recent years, is another example of students being treated differently because of their ethnicity," he said. "My Office of Civil Rights will investigate any potential violations of the law and vindicate the civil rights of these students and their families."

The investigation announcement comes about a day after Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who won election in 2021 largely thanks to the support of parents, called for a probe into the school, saying, "We need to get to the bottom of what appears to be an egregious, deliberate attempt to disadvantage high-performing students."

"I believe this failure may have caused material harm to those students and their parents, and that this failure may have violated the Virginia Human Rights Act," he added.

I guess we'll soon see.