Posted on August 24, 2023

Parents Challenge Virginia High School’s Admissions After Affirmative Action Ruling

Alex Swoyer and Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, August 22, 2023

Parents and students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology set the table this week for the next big test of affirmative action, asking the Supreme Court to overrule the Virginia school’s new admissions policy as unfair discrimination against Asian Americans.

Coalition for TJ says the policy, which reserves some slots at the highly selective school based on geography, was intended to promote Black and Hispanic students while limiting the number of Asian Americans, who had come to dominate the admissions process.

Two months ago, the high court struck down race-based affirmative action policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. The ruling said using a “plus” factor for Black and Hispanic applicants based specifically on race was unconstitutional.

“This court has long recognized that a policy ‘fair on its face and impartial in appearance’ may violate the Equal Protection Clause if ‘it is applied and administered by public authority with an evil eye and an unequal hand, so as practically to make unjust and illegal discriminations between persons in similar circumstances,’” the Coalition for TJ said in its petition to the justices.

Thomas Jefferson is operated by Fairfax County Public Schools, though it accepts students from some surrounding jurisdictions. TJ, as it’s known locally, regularly ranks as the top public high school in the country. Some families go to great lengths to maximize chances for admission.


Asian American families in particular have signed up for prep courses and often cluster in regions of the county that have the best-performing elementary and middle schools, looking to boost their prospects.

When Asian American admissions grew to 73% of the student body, the school system changed the admissions policy. It dropped its admissions test and capped the number of students who could be accepted from any one middle school.

That change was particularly damaging to Asian students, whose share of the admissions dropped to 54%. Black admissions rose from 1% to 7% of the class, Hispanic admissions went from 3% to 11%, and White admissions climbed from 18% to 22%.


In the lower courts, a federal district judge ruled in favor of the Coalition for TJ, finding that the school system was fixated on racial balancing when it pursued the new policy, to the detriment of Asian American students.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling in May. In a 2-1 decision, the judges found that the policy on its face was race-neutral and Asian Americans still accounted for about 20% of the county’s student population.