REPORT: School District Paid $455,000 For ‘Equity’ Program While School Hid Merit Awards From Students

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Mary Rooke Commentary and Analysis Writer
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Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) officials paid $455,000 for data collection and analysis from a California equity contractor as Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHS) administrators allegedly hid National Merit Commended Students and Semifinalists awards, a report said.

TJHS Principal Ann Bonitatibus and the Director of Student Services Brandon Kosatka allegedly withheld important merit awards from students while FCPS gave Performance Fact Inc. a contract to collect and analyze student data to develop district goals, including “Equity-centered Strategic Planning,” according to the Fairfax Times.

Shawna Yashar, an attorney and TJHS parent, says she emailed Bonitatibus and Kosatka about the delayed notification after discovering that her son was given the merit award two weeks after several college’s early application deadlines had passed, the outlet reported.

Bonitatibus told Yashar she signed the students’ certificates within 48 hours of receiving them. TJHS’s student services department was then responsible for notifying students of their honor, according to a series of email exchanges between Yashar, Bonitatibus and Kosatka reported by the Fairfax Times.

In one email, Yashar detailed a phone conversation between her and Kosatka. The director of student services allegedly admitted in the exchange to intentionally hiding National Merit Commended Students and Semifinalists awards from TJHS students because Kosatka and Bonitatibus didn’t want to “hurt” the feelings of students who didn’t earn the distinction, the outlet reported.

“We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements,” Kosatka said, the Fairfax Times reported. (RELATED: Teacher Resigns After Allegedly Sending Romantic Snapchat Messages To 8th-Grade Girl)

Asra Nomani, a parental rights and education activist, said in the Fairfax Times report that TJHS also allegedly withheld a National Merit award from her son in September 2020. “In the course of reporting, I just discovered – two years later – that National Merit recognized my son, a Class of 2021 TJ graduate, as a Commended Student in September 2020, but the principal withheld that information from families, denying students scholarships and boosts to admissions,” Nomani wrote in the article.

An FCPS spokesperson told the Daily Caller in a statement that the contract with the equity firm and the delay in announcing the National Merit Commended Students and Semifinalists awards were not connected and promising it “was a one-time human error in the fall of 2022 only.”

“Once the issue regarding the fall 2022 notifications came to light, counselors sent emails and made follow-up calls to each college where these students had applied and informed them of the National Merit Scholarship Commendations,” the FCPS spokesperson said. “To suggest a deliberate intent to withhold this information would be inaccurate and contrary to the values of FCPS.”

“FCPS understands the hard work and dedication of each and every student who competes for college acceptance and scholarship opportunities. We are continuing to look into this matter and will take any necessary steps to ensure consistency in appropriate and timely notification of National Merit recognitions going forward,” the spokesperson added.

The school sent letters and called colleges where students affected by the incident applied to notify their admission departments of the student’s National Merit award, according to a Dec. 12 email sent by Kosatka, the outlet reported.