RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Attorney General Jason Miyares joined 15 other attorneys general in filing an amicus brief opposing the contentious admission process at Thomas Jefferson High School.
“Right now, there are innocent Virginians unfairly treated and punished not for anything they’ve done, but because of who they are,” Miyares said. “Thomas Jefferson High School’s new admissions process is state sanctioned bigotry – it’s wrong, and it’s the exact opposite of equality. As Attorney General, I’ll never stop fighting for the equal treatment and protection of all Virginians.”
Thomas Jefferson High School has consistently been ranked the number one public high school in the country. However, the school began to come under criticism over its lack of diversity; for decades, Black and Hispanic students were woefully underrepresented in the student body.
The school board decided to scrap its standardized test that had been at the heart of the school’s admissions process and instead adopted a process that set aside slots at each of the county’s middle schools. The new process also included “experience factors” like socioeconomic background.
The parents’ group “Coalition for TJ” filed a lawsuit arguing that Asian Americans, who constituted more than 70% of the student body, were unfairly targeted in the new policy.
In February, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton ruled that the school’s new admission policy illegally discriminated against Asian Americans.
In March, the 4th Circuit appeals court granted a request from Fairfax County Public Schools to continue using its new admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson High School. In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court said the school board had met the legal requirements for a suspension of Hilton’s order while its appeal is pending.
The 4th Circuit panel agreed with the school’s argument that because the selection process for the incoming class was already underway, implementing Hilton’s ruling would have thrown the process into chaos.
Judge Toby Heytens wrote that he had “grave doubts” about Hilton’s conclusions “regarding both disparate impact and discriminatory purpose” of the new admissions policy.
“In my view, appellant Fairfax County School Board is likely to succeed in its appeal,” Heytens wrote.
Miyares and the 15 other attorneys general who signed the amicus brief disagree.
The school’s current freshman class, which was admitted under the new policy, saw a significantly different racial makeup. Black students increased from 1% to 7%; Hispanic representation increased from 3% to 11%. Asian American representation decreased from 73% to 54%.
The school system has insisted that its new policies are race-neutral, and the panel evaluating applicants is not even aware of applicants’ race as it conducts its reviews.
The Associate Press contributed to this report.