The Bulletin

Virginia attorney general extends TJ investigation to all Fairfax County schools

By: - January 9, 2023 7:35 pm

Attorney General Jason Miyares in the Senate gallery. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office has extended its civil rights investigation of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology to all high schools in Fairfax County, claiming officials allegedly withheld National Merit Scholarship honors from their students.

“It’s concerning that multiple schools throughout Fairfax County withheld merit awards from students,” said Miyares in a release Monday. “My office will investigate the entire Fairfax County Public Schools system to find out if any students were discriminated against and if their rights were violated.”

On Jan. 4, Miyares opened a civil rights investigation against the administration at Thomas Jefferson into whether its “withholding of National Merit Scholarship honors from students violated the Virginia Human Rights Act.” The letter also noted his office will investigate whether the school’s admissions policies violate that act. 

The cases stem from school officials’ delays in notifying students who received the “commended” designation from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

Semifinalists, who scored the highest on their standardized tests, are the only participants eligible to advance in the competition for some 7,250 merit scholarship awards, according to the corporation. Students designated as “commended” are not eligible, but may be candidates for special scholarships offered by corporate sponsors.

Thomas Jefferson recorded 132 semifinalists of 238 overall in Fairfax County this fall.

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Michelle Reid said Monday in a release that the division had learned that students at two other schools, Langley High School and Westfield High School, also “did not receive timely notification” of their awards. 

She said staff have been contacting colleges where the students have applied to inform them of the merit commendations.

“We are sincerely sorry for this error,” Reid wrote. “Each and every student, their experience and success, remain our priority.”

On Monday, the attorney general notified the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools that Langley and Westfield High Schools would be included in the investigation after public reports on Sunday detailed that the schools had failed to notify students of merit scholarship honors. 

Thomas Jefferson has been at the center of Virginia’s educational culture wars after the school began overhauling its admissions policies in an attempt to add more Black and Latino students to its rolls. The effort has sparked fierce backlash from some parents and lawmakers, who say the changes discriminate against Asian American students and are an example of equity considerations harming educational quality. 

In April 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the new admissions policy to stand while the case continued to be litigated in the lower courts. It is currently pending in the Virginia Court of Appeals.


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Nathaniel Cline
Nathaniel Cline

Nathaniel is an award-winning journalist who's been covering news across the country since 2007, including politics at The Loudoun Times-Mirror and The Northern Neck News in Virginia as well as sports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. He has also hosted podcasts, worked as a television analyst for Spectrum Sports, and appeared as a panelist for conferences and educational programs. A graduate of Bowie State University, Nathaniel grew up in Hawaii and the United Kingdom as a military brat. Five things he must have before leaving home: his cellphone, Black Panther water bottle, hand sanitizer, wedding ring and Philadelphia Eagles keychain.