Reports surfaced recently that administrators at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia, withheld National Merit Awards from deserving students.
While the school chalked the incident up to the human error, critics believe it is further evidence of the educational system’s current emphasis on suppressing academic excellence to achieve equal results among all students.
This week, the narrative expanded to include two other area schools that admitted to similar behavior. These revelations came on the heels of Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s announcement that he had tasked state Attorney General Jason Miyares to conduct a probe of the situation.
Today I'm expanding my civil rights investigation into Thomas Jefferson High School's withholding of merit awards to include the Fairfax Public Schools system following reports that other schools failed to notify & recognize their qualifying students. https://t.co/OOvC2crpjn
— Jason Miyares (@JasonMiyaresVA) January 9, 2023
A statement from Langley High School Principal Kim Greer confirmed that students did not receive confirmation of their National Merit Scholarship Corporation Commended Student awards.
“I must apologize that certificates were not distributed to these Langley High School students in the usual way this past fall,” she wrote.
Westfield High School Principal Tony DiBari likewise provided a statement to parents advising that “it has come to light that … students designated as Commended Students this past fall were also not notified by the school.”
Whatever the cause for these failures, deserving students in these schools have potentially paid the price by not being able to present the withheld commendations during the college application process.
According to Shawnna Yashar, her son’s award was delivered about two months after Thomas Jefferson High School received it — and after he had already begun applying to colleges.
She said that an administrator told her that the school received the letters “but they were holding onto them until they could find a time to hand them out to the students that wouldn’t be as conspicuous and can be more discreet … so the other students who didn’t receive the awards wouldn’t feel so bad about not getting them.”
In his letter confirming the investigation, Youngkin advised that the situation could represent a violation of the state’s Human Rights Act, noting that it “appears to be a deliberate attempt to disadvantage high-performing students.”
Considering the high percentage of Asian students at the school, some critics have also alleged that the decision to withhold awards might have been racially motivated.
A spokesperson for Miyares confirmed that he “has been carefully reviewing and evaluating the allegations of racial discrimination at Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology since the very first public reports.”