National Merit - 1

UPDATE: In an email to parents Jan. 8, Langley High School Principal Kimberly Greer announced that the Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Michelle Reid would meet with parents to answer questions regarding “a delay” in notifying National Merit Scholarship Corporation Commended Students. The meeting will take place Jan. 10 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m at Langley High School in the lecture hall. Reid held a similar meeting last week at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria. That meeting was open to the press, including TV news crews.

A similar meeting will take place at Westfield High School Jan. 10 from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., according to an email sent out by Principal Toni DiBari.

Email

 

While Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Michelle Reid claims the principal at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology withheld National Merit awards from students in a “one-time human error,” parents at two local high schools got a Friday and Saturday night surprise. 

The revelations are emerging after school district principals scrambled to a meeting Wednesday afternoon with the superintendent, after Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced a civil rights investigation into the controversy. Just like at TJHSST, the new revelations appear to impact many Asian American students – one focus of the investigation. 

In an email, obtained by the Fairfax County Times, Langley High School Principal Kim Greer pressed send on a mea culpa at 9:29:30 p.m. on Friday night, confusing, agitating and angering parents and students already on edge during the tumultuous college admissions season. 

Greer told parents that she was “delighted” to let them know that “your student was designated a Commended Student by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.” She then immediately followed up by saying, “I must apologize that certificates were not distributed to these Langley High School students in the usual way this past fall.”

Email from Langley principal

Tonight, another email shared with the Fairfax County Times went out to parents at 8:39 p.m. This time, Tony DiBari, the “Proud Principal” at Westfield High School in Chantilly, told parents that “it has come to light that Westfield High School students designated as Commended Students this past fall were also not notified by the school.”

As news spread in the community about the new revelations, parents are livid, particularly in light of a new contract that Fairfax County Public Schools signed this fall with a sole-source contractor who preaches an “equity” strategy of “equal outcomes for every student,” urging school district officials to “have the courage and the willingness to be purposefully unequal when it comes to opportunities and access.” 

“The TJ rot spreads…,” one local parent said in an email. In McLean, down Georgetown Pike from CIA headquarters, Langley is a school, like TJHSST, with many high-achieving students.

“I am deeply sorry for this mistake,” wrote Greer. In the National Merit competition, about 1.5 million students take the PSAT/NMSQT test, and about 50,000 students are recognized among the top 3 percent of students, awarding them honors akin to gold, silver and bronze medals. Every September, National Merit recognizes about 16,000 students as Semifinalists and 34,000 Commended Students. Ultimately about 15,000 of the Semifinalists go on to be recognized as National Merit Finalists.

Westfield principal email

National coverage of the TJ story got the attention of Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears and Governor Glenn Youngkin. Youngkin sent a letter on Jan. 3 to Miyares asking him to conduct an investigation into the issue. The next day, on Jan. 4, the attorney general held a press conference at the Korean Community Center in Annandale, announcing he had opened two civil rights investigations, one into the withheld National Merit awards notifications and another into admissions changes to the school. With about 70 percent of students at TJHSST Asian American, Miyares raised the specter of anti-Asian discrimination in both policies. 

In recent years, most of the students awarded Semifinalist and Commended Students at TJHSST, Langley High School and Westfield High School have been Asian American. In his press conference, Miyares said, “Equity without excellence is emptiness.”

A Langley father, who spoke on condition of anonymity in fear of retaliation from the school district, said Virginia Tech recently rejected his son’s application for early admission and the family was shocked to open the principal’s email –  in the middle of the night – with the news that their son was a Commended Student.

“School district officials are deliberately sabotaging our kids’ lives in the name of ‘equity,’” the father said. “It’s cruel, if not evil. Think about the despondency that they are creating.” 

On Saturday, Langley parents had already begun filing complaints with Miyares’ office. The Langley father said he wants to see the Langley principal fired for cause for undermining students. 

Pie Chart Graphic_Edited.jpg

“The apology is empty,” he said. “We are feeling a cascade of emotions. We trusted the school system with our son’s life, and they betrayed our trust.”

The principals at Langley and Westfield used nearly identical language that school staff “will be contacting colleges” where students had applied. The Langley principal added: “Our intention is to ensure college admissions departments know that your student was the recipient of this important award.”

This, however, overlooks the fact that college admissions officers have already made life-changing decisions – including rejections –  based on incomplete information from students, missing this important award. According to a survey of opportunities available, the National Merit Commended Student recognition opens the door to millions of dollars in college scholarships, including a four-year scholarship at Liberty University, and 800 Special Scholarships from corporate sponsors. The deadlines for many of those scholarships have already passed.

In carbon-copy language, both principals wrote, “We understand and value the hard work and dedication of each and every student, and the families and staff who support them. Please be assured that we remain resolutely committed to supporting every student in reaching their unique and fullest potential.”

However, for parents in the school district these examples of merit withheld from students raises serious concerns, particularly amid news that the FCPS superintendent signed a contract of about nine months, paying a controversial contractor, Mutiu Fagbayi, and his company Performance Fact Inc., based in Oakland, Calif., $455,000 for “equity” training that includes a controversial “Equity-centered Strategic Plan” with this goal: “equal outcomes for every student, without exception.”

“The equity imperative is to give each student what they need to meet equal outcomes. The goal is not equitable outcomes,” Fagbayi said early last year, promoting an identical strategy at a meeting with officials in Princeton Public Schools. A video recording of the April 26, 2022, meeting is posted on YouTube.

“The goal is equal outcomes,” Fagbayi explained. “And what we need to be equitable about is the access. In a very real sense, many districts struggle with this. To have true equity, you have to be purposefully unequal when it comes to resources. I want to say that again because most districts struggle with that. To have an equity-centered organization, we have to have the courage and the willingness to be purposefully unequal when it comes to opportunities and access,”

For some local parents, the notion of being “purposefully unequal” is not only unethical and immoral but also potentially illegal. What’s more, the withholding of the awards from students at TJHSST and now Langley reveal an inconsistent policy across the district. In mid-October, Saundra Davis, a local mother who is running for school board, got an email from the director of student services at Robinson Secondary School, in Fairfax, telling her that her son had been awarded the National Merit Commended Student honor.

On Friday, Davis raised questions at a legislative breakfast about the withholding of awards at TJHSST as part of the county’s wider “equity” strategy called “One Fairfax.” With the news of the same withholding of awards at Langley, she said, “TJ is an experiment. IIf they could get away with withholding awards at TJ, they thought they’d be free to pick off all the other schools. This should be a red alert to all parents.”

On Sept. 14, 2022, Fairfax County Public Schools released an official announcement of the district’s 238 National Merit Semifinalists, leaving it to schools to announce the National Merit Commended Students. Of the 238 students, 15 students were from Langley High School and 131 students were from TJHSST. 

According to an email statement from a spokeswoman with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, based in Illinois, around Sept. 10, 2022, the organization sent principals packages with the names of National Merit Semifinalists and Commended Students. The packages included Letters of Commendation for Commended Students. The letter included this note in bold: “Please present the letters of commendation as soon as possible since it is the students’ only notification.”

Fairfax County Public Schools officials did not respond to questions.

Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who lives in Fairfax County. Send her tips to asra@asranomani.com or through direct message on Twitter at @AsraNomani. Heather Zwicker is editor of Fairfax County Times.

(19) comments

FairfaxResident

Asra Q. Nomani is a bully and fake journalist. I wonder how many seconds she has spent in a classroom? She has no idea how education works. She is doing harm to our education only to advantage her own agenda,

6mahone9

Hopefully many parents will remember this next year when the FFC School Board is up for re-election. However, I doubt it will make any difference. The majority of the Board has voted time and again for policies that have hurt many of the students that have tried to excel in the name of equity…….they believe no one should be any better than any other student even though real life is not like this. Vote the current board out next year!

Thoth

We have taken away any accountability for students and their families. We would gladly hide and disparage the achievements of those committed students so that we can make the apathetic and lazy students feel better about themselves. You better hope the competition is doing the same, or we will quickly get left behind. Mission accomplished: many students will now be missing out on scholarships and college entrance to school systems who aren’t sabotaging their best students, i mean, “human error”.

Malcolm Vex

More innuendo and incomplete journalism from the hack-in-chief, Asia Nomani. I understand that she has an agenda to push, clearly, but a decent journo would see these occurrences and ask certain questions: is this a trend outside of Fairfax's school district? Did anything change in the process for how this information is delivered to the school? Does this organization know of other similar instances of schools taking longer to relay their notifications to students and families? Have they noted any other national trends related to the distribution of their award notifications? These principals have a lot to handle when it comes to the education and safety of their students. I don’t see the benefit of intentionally withholding merit awards. Maybe, as a supposed journalist, assume best intent for the sake of not being a hack, and do some actual research in order to submit writing that doesn't clearly push your obvious agendas. I know it takes WORK, but at the end of the day, that's what it is. Fairfax Times, do better.

laurenp

Amen, Malcolm. But we must remember- nothing makes a story better than one that matches the personal agenda of a conservative with a taste for a job she's not qualified to do.

FairfaxResident

Agreed! Asra is a bully and a fake journalist!

laurenp

It's amazing how many over-achieving parents or "trainers" as I fondly refer to you as, are worried about a damn letter of merit for your kids while we've got 1st grade teachers being shot by 6 year olds. But by all means, let's make this about race and misguided intentions and beat this dead horse. At the end of the day, your kid is either good enough with or without a letter of merit. If this letter is enough to make or break their "career" in school, then maybe other avenues should be considered. I can't imagine anything worse than being accepted into college with the "general population". We are pretty damn average and boring after all. But hey, someone has to salt the fries.

lapodo

The AG should also investigate to see if the children of school staff or city staff miraculously received their National Merit notifications in September.

rjwintl

I’m trusting our State Government will FIRE KP Greer , Tony DiBari and especially Michelle Reid

BHeind2

Thank you to all the parents who are paying attention, respecting merit, and advocating for academic excellence. We see you and we appreciate you.

TickedOffUncle

Fairfax County Public Schools used to be one of the best but now in my opinion they are absolutely pathetic. Over the past 20 years I have watched their rapid decline, especially since the pandemic. There is way too much emphasis on the race, gender and sexuality and not enough on the basic educational needs. For example, I remember one of my sister's kids telling my parents and I that we had to vote for a certain presidential candidate because of his race and not because of their qualifications! I asked where they learned this and they said from their teachers! They have also successfully removed every ounce of fun out of school. The kids are so afraid that they will say or do something that has been deemed offensive and face severe punishment like suspension or expulsion!

The most damaging thing though is the way the school systems handled the COVID pandemic. Keeping kids out of the classroom for so long was absolutely ridiculous! They has kids so scared and afraid of catching COVID when the majority of them had the least chance of catching it out of everyone.

The Fairfax County School System is failing our children. The standardized test scores are down along with their basic skills in English and Math. The only successful thing Fairfax County Public Schools is doing now is creating a bunch of kids that suffer from severe emotional problems like depression and anxiety!

I do want to add that there are some really good teachers and administrators within the school system however there are far too many that are not!

EC

It is stunning that FCPS continues to reach new lows everyday. The deliberate discrimination against students based on race, economic status and academic achievement is absolutely despicable. It is insane to sabotage the success of kids that work hard and get good grades.

This issue isn’t the only one that FCPS is getting completely wrong. My stepson attends Edison HS where they snuck in a new grading policy called Standards Based Grading. He has been a straight A student his entire life but now his grades are all over the place. Why? Homework is ungraded. Quizzes don’t count. Only a test or two matters during the quarter - and then, after my kid got 100% on the test, the teacher gave him a B because he didn’t “feel” that my student had mastered the topic. Even if he receives an A now they can lower his grade later due to the “rolling grade book” philosophy. The PTA had a meeting with the principal and staff where they avoided most questions and flat out lied in response to other questions. What was mind blowing to me was the moment when the principal spoke and angrily stated that FCPS does not believe in homework and good work habits. She repeated it twice to make sure we got the message. I guess her implication was that homework is discriminatory? Anyway, I walked away from that meeting convinced that her goal was for every student, in every class, to get a B no matter how hard they worked or how much they knew. Since I don’t just want to criticize, I will make a suggestion - instead of pushing successful kids down, why don’t you pull struggling kids up? Instead of sabotaging the high achievers, FCPS should stay after school everyday and do homework labs with kids that don’t get support at home.

What happens to our society if FCPS gets what they want - where young adults who are successful are discriminated against and students who didn’t earn their grades in the classroom are promoted? Do you want your brain surgeons to come through this academic process? How about your air traffic controllers or airline mechanics? Should these career fields be populated by those that couldn’t make it through the certification processes while the people who qualified are rejected?

To you FCPS, I say this- in the late 90’s we were rated as the 2nd best school district in the country by US News and World Report, now Fairfax County is rated 6th in the state. What’s despicable about that decline is that those that are in charge of our schools are doing it on purpose.

Thoth

Thanks for posting this. FCPS also giving fake 50% to all students even if they’ve done NO work. We pass these students no matter what and wonder why we are seeing such low performance in a once-reputable county.

Science Mama

The hatred the FCPS school board and the new superintendent hired by the school board have for achievement and the shame they feel for their own privilege has allowed them to take out their hatred of these high-achieving kids parents on the children themselves. Children.

EW17

We need an immediate investigation into whether the intentional withholding of National Merits Awards is the only thing FCPS is doing to discriminate against Asian students, or is this just the tip of the iceberg?

Thoth

Absolutely.

Revere00

We are seeing the results if this disastrous move away from “equality” and to “equity”.

Some of use could see this coming. Equity over equality is right out of the CRT playbook.

Thank goodness we have some great parents and teachers who saw this coming and are paying attention.

Parents have go organize and stop this discriminatory monstrosity that is destroying our school system.

Thank goodness Va. parents elected an administration in Richmond that seems to be on our side.

We must keep the pressure on .

AmyGregory

I teach elementary school, and for these principals to call this “an error” is laughable. Teachers have been complaining about lowering standards and pushing kids to the next grade level for years. Apparently equity demands that all children must fail equally. I have students functioning two or three grade levels below their current grade - I spend 90% of my day struggling to help those kids and very little on the students who could actually do grade level material. The result is not the lower achieving students suddenly being on grade level but that all my students are doing below grade level work. Well, at least this means the PSAT scores won’t matter in the future, because the system is set up to ensure no kids will be successful.

Thoth

Agreed. Accountability is nonexistent so as not to agitate those students and families who do nothing. The future holds warm fuzzies and cold pricklies for a grading system.

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