The parents were right all along, and now they have proof.
In the fall of 2020, school board members in Fairfax County, Virginia were actively debating how best to racially organize the admissions process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ). For months, rank and file members Coalition for TJ — most of them Asian American immigrant parents of current or potential TJ students — attended public meetings at which board members and school officials attacked their community in coded language.
Board members and school officials complained that TJ’s student body, made up of more than 70% Asian Americans, was not “representative” of Northern Virginia . They worried that the school’s blind admissions test would fail to capture the “talent” the board was looking for, and derided the school’s culture as “toxic”.
Coalition parents knew officials were hiding behind these buzzwords to disguise their true goal: to racially balance the TJ student body. In the council’s view, TJ had too many Asians, which required changes to the admissions process to give school district officials more power to exclude Asian American students, creating a student body. which would be more to their liking.
But parents could not prove the changes were intended to be discriminatory, that is, until text messages and emails between board members were made public the month last. in a federal trial.
Now they have proof. Communications shared among board members show that they were aware that their changes to TJ’s admissions process would discriminate against Asian Americans; that council members had little faith in Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s leadership; and that the process of changing admissions standards was rushed, botched, and manipulated to achieve the preferred end of the racial balance board in the student body.
A particularly damning text exchange between board members Abrar Omeish and Stella Pekarsky left no doubt that they understood the TJ admissions change would be an attack on Asian American students. :
Pekarsky: “It will whitewash our schools and kick [out] our Asians. How does this help achieve diversity goals? »
Omeish: “I mean there was an underlying anti-Asian sentiment to all of this, I hate to say it lol.”
Omeish may have thought the ‘anti-Asian feeling’ deserved a ‘lol’, but the hundreds of Asian American kids whose dreams of getting into TJ have been dashed, because their skin color is “bad”, don’t laugh.
In another text addressed to Omeish, Pekarsky lambasted Brabrand’s leadership in ruthless terms:
“Brabrand believes in attracting attention. That’s how he screwed up TJ and Asians hate us.
When Omeish asked her if she believed the superintendent’s bias against Asian Americans was deliberate, Pekarsky replied, “Runned out the door right away blaming them.”
Omeish wrote that she thought he was “just stupid and too white to [get] this.”
For parents who doubted Brabrand’s seemingly hostile approach to their concerns, there is some vindication that council members shared their doubts, but only in private communications.
Other texts and emails reveal board members obsessed with language games (board member Karen Corbett Sanders insisted that the policy changes “did not eliminate merit but rather reframe our understanding of the merit”) and “controlled the narrative” regarding the controversial process of watering down admissions standards at TJ. Clearly, the board members were more concerned with the public relations issue than with resolving the substantive issues and objections raised by parents regarding the discriminatory effect of the new admissions policy on U.S. college students. Asian origin. (The full compilation of board communications is available online at TJ Documents.)
The documents show what TJ’s parents believed: The new admissions process was intended to target Asian American students, and school board members knew what they were doing. Yet they voted unanimously to eliminate merit-based, race-neutral admissions testing. It’s not just wrong, it’s illegal. The Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause is a promise that our government, including public schools such as TJ, will treat all citizens as individuals and not as members of a racial group.
The Coalition for TJ, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, is fight in federal court to hold the Fairfax County School Board accountable for this promise. Now that the parents’ concerns are validated by the publication of the unfiltered thoughts of board members and school district officials, it’s time for their legal case to be vindicated in court.
Erin Wilcox is a lawyer with Pacific Legal Foundation, which advocates nationwide for court victories by enforcing the constitutional guarantee of individual liberty. Follow her on Twitter @ErinWilcoxPLF.
Asra Q. Nomani is Vice President of Grassroots Organization Parents defending education and co-founder of Coalition for TJ, which champions diversity and excellence at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia.