As 17 school principals in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties admit to withholding National Merit Commended Students awards this school year, largely impacting Asian American youth and their mostly immigrant families, it was a different story across the border in Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, where most National Merit winners have traditionally not been Asian American. School district officials there said staff celebrated their National Merit Commended Student recipients on time.
The racial component is relevant in this analysis because Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares has opened a civil rights investigation into the scandal rocking northern Virginia schools, of principals withholding National Merit Commended Student awards first reported at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and now enveloping seven more high schools in Fairfax County Public Schools.
According to data analysis by the Fairfax County Times, about 10 percent of National Merit Semifinalists have been Asian American students in Arlington Public Schools and even less in Alexandria City Public Schools, compared to an estimated 75 percent of students in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, where many students had their Commended Student awards withheld. The percentage of Asian American winners has also been small in Alexandria City Public Schools, based on announcements from recent years. Asian students make up less than 10 percent of students in Arlington County and Alexandria City and about 20 percent of students in Fairfax and Loudoun counties and 10 percent in Prince William County.
In Arlington Public Schools (APS), which has three high schools, school district spokesman Frank Bellavia said that the school district had 70 National Merit Commended Students this school year, and school officials said, “Schools provided certificates to commended students in October when they received information from the NMSC,” or National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
“Arlington Public Schools is committed to knowing and recognizing all students by name, strength and need, and we have made it our priority to celebrate and honor all student achievements and awards at the school level and division wide,” Bellavia said.
In the Arlington school district’s total of 70 National Merit Commended Students, it had honorees in three high schools and one academic program with this tally: 39 at Washington-Liberty High School; four at Wakefield High School; four at H-B Woodlawn High School; 20 at Yorktown High School; and three at Arlington Tech.
He said that the school district annually issues a press release announcing semifinalists and "the schools individually provide awards to all commended students once those are provided” by National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
Bellavia declined comment on the civil rights investigation by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares into the withholding of National Merit awards in Fairfax County. “APS does not comment on investigations, especially when they focus on other school divisions,” he said.
In the neighboring school district of Alexandria City Public Schools, Kathy Mimberg, executive director of communications, told Fairfax County Times that the school district had seven National Merit Commended Students, along with one National Merit Semifinalist previously announced. She said that school district staff notified the Semifinalist and Commended students and their families about their awards “by letter on Sept. 23.” The school district also publicized the news about the Semifinalist in a division-wide ACPS Express newsletter, published on Sept. 23.
“The ACHS counseling department staff notified students and their families about their National Merit recognition by letter on Sept. 23, 2022,” she said.
“In the notification letter, ACHS staff invited the students who were recognized and their families to a breakfast and ceremony on Oct. 7, 2022, to celebrate their accomplishment,” she continued.
Both school districts didn’t release the names of the Commended Students yet.