Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, known as TJ, was ranked the number one public high school in America by the U.S. News and World Report for 2021. The school has 550 slots for the incoming freshman class, meaning competition is tight for students to get accepted.
Recently, the Fairfax County School Board changed the admissions process for the elite school. They scrapped the admissions test and fee by creating a process which has a quota system for each middle school in the county, limiting how many students from each middle school can be accepted.
Coalition for TJ member, stepparent of a TJ student, and parent of a TJ hopeful student, Harry Jackson, is upset by this new admission process. “This new process is detrimental to gifted students of all ethnicities. It penalizes students in advanced academic programs, and marginalizes gifted Black and Hispanic children,” Jackson said.
The Coalition for TJ is fighting for diversity and excellence and have been proceeding with a lawsuit against the school board and their new admissions process. The lawsuit was approved by a federal judge May 21.
FCPS stands by their new admissions process despite the backlash. They released a statement on their website. “This was a critical part of an effort to remove barriers and inequities historically faced by students from culturally and ethnically diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, while ensuring that TJHSST maintains its top-tier academic standards,” FCPS said.
But Jackson disagrees. “Talent is not evenly distributed across Fairfax County,” he said. “If you look at the data, there are top areas. All this shows is across the county they are not addressing issues which are systemic in the pipeline. It does not address the issue of the pipeline, it does not uplift the children who need help.” He feels that this new quota will negatively affect gifted children across the county as it only allows the top 1.5 percent of students from each middle school into the high school.
The Coalition for TJ wants the school board to address areas and middle schools which they feel need to be brought up to speed and may need more help. “Parents move to Fairfax for great schools, and our group is educating parents on what resources are out there,” Jackson said. “We also work with PTAs to tell them what resources are available. If a student has talent, there are resources for them.”
The coalition website offers other solutions to increasing the school’s diversity instead of the new admissions process. They suggest eliminating the source of inequity from the Advanced Academics Program, sponsoring summer or after-school STEM activities for underserved populations, and developing retention activities among other ideas for the school board to increase diversity.
This lawsuit reflects an ongoing trend in America as elite schools work on diversifying their classes, many of which have seen backlash. “We argue that the new subjective race-based admission standards, aimed at achieving a ‘better’ racial balance at TJ, violates the constitutional rights of the school’s Asian students,” Jackson’s online coalition statement says. The Coalition for TJ wants the community to not only fight this new admissions system but take a closer look into the local leadership. “Parents need to pay attention to the school board,” he said. “They do not represent our community and values.”
While the Coalition for TJ is engaged in a lawsuit, Jackson noted there is a positive thing coming from the situation. “Fairfax is a great community and has great parents,” he said. “This crisis has brought many communities together.”