A federal court upheld a racial balancing admissions policy at the nation’s top high school on Tuesday, striking down a lower court ruling that found it unconstitutional.
A group of parents, students, alumni and staff known as the Coalition for TJ sued the Fairfax County School Board in 2021 after it changed Thomas Jefferson High School’s merit-based admissions policy, removing standardized testing requirements, lowering grade-point average requirements and eliminating teacher recommendations to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity. They allege the changes were “specifically intended to reduce the percentage of Asian American students who enroll in TJ, with the ultimate goal of racially balancing the school,” according to the complaint.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Coalition failed to demonstrate the policy was motivated by “discriminatory intent,” noting that Asian American students accounted for 48.59% of applications in 2021 but still secured 54.36% of the spots offered. (RELATED: Parents Demand Firings After Prestigious School Reportedly Withheld Awards From Students)
“Thus, the Coalition’s remarkable efforts to twist TJ’s admission statistics and to prove a disproportionate, adverse impact on Asian Americans students fall flat,” Clinton appointee Judge Robert B. King wrote in the majority opinion. “By the same token, the Coalition’s contention that the Board’s aim to expand access to TJ and to enhance the overall diversity of TJ’s student population constitutes per se intentional racial discrimination against Asian American students simply runs counter to common sense.”
Biden appointee Judge Toby J. Heytens joined King’s majority and filed a concurring opinion. Judge Allison Jones Rushing, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, dissented from the decision.
The percentage of Asian American students in the Class of 2025—the first to be selected using the new admissions policy—dropped from about 70 to 50%, according to the Washington Post.
Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Erin Wilcox, who represented the Coalition, said she is disappointed but “not discouraged” by the ruling.
“Discrimination against students based on their race is wrong and violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection,” Wilcox said in a statement provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation. “We look forward to asking the Supreme Court to end this illegal practice once and for all.”
Thomas Jefferson High School came under fire early this year for failing to tell predominantly Asian students that they had received the National Merit award.
The Supreme Court is expected to soon release a decision on a pair of cases questioning the constitutionality of universities’ race-based admissions policies. Schools have already started floating ideas for skirting a possible decision overturning affirmative action, such as going test-optional.
“The court reached the correct decision, and we firmly believe this admission plan is fair and gives qualified applicants at every middle school a fair chance of a seat at TJ,” said John Foster, division counsel for the Fairfax County School Board. “We look forward to offering seats to a new group of remarkable and incredibly well-qualified young scholars in the years to come.”
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