The Virginia PTA is vowing to revoke the charter of a newly elected chapter at one of the nation’s best public high schools, a move it says was prompted by several factors including unethical campaigning and bullying but that supporters of the new board say is in fact rooted in opposition to critical race theory.
The move comes at a time when opponents of critical race theory — the academic discipline that puts White racism at the core of American history — are urging parents to become more involved and active in the oversight of K-12 schools, exactly the tactics embraced at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, which has in some years been ranked as the No. 1 high school in the United States.
The Fairfax County school’s elite status has made it a focus of the wider fight emerging in K-12 public and charter education over the sweeping diversity, equity and inclusion measures, which increasingly include the teaching of critical race theory.
Critical race theorists hold that the presence anywhere of a Black population lower than its percentage in the national population — as is the case with the Thomas Jefferson High School student body — is the product of racism.
To remedy allegedly racist admissions at high-ranking magnet schools and boost the percentage of Black and Hispanic students, activists and largely Democratic elected officials in Fairfax County, New York City and elsewhere have sought to change the rigorous admission requirements for applicants.
While the move against the Thomas Jefferson PTA may not affect operations at the school, it marks an iron-fisted response by statewide forces against local democracy and the popular will, said Asra Nomani, a parent of a recent TJHS graduate and former PTA member who is now active with the group Parents Defending Education, which has led the fight against teaching critical race theory in schools.
Ms. Nomani and others say the state PTA action and the outgoing chapter majority, led by President Bonnie Qin, are engaged in a blatant attempt to preserve the old charter and take back power from the voters.
The new board “won an election, and now they want to get a posse up against them,” Ms. Nomani said.
Ms. Qin did not respond to a request for comment. She is an attorney She is also an attorney with Arnold & Porter, the law firm that represents the TJ Alumni Action Group, which supports changing the “admissions process to be more equitable” and “mandating an anti-racism curriculum,” according to its website.
The outgoing PTA majority backed eliminating a rigorous admissions test for Thomas Jefferson, while the new four-person majority elected June 6 ran on a platform that would restore the test and push back against diversity moves they said will dilute the quality of the school simply to boost the percentage of Black and Hispanic students there. In July 2020, the incoming class of 486 students was 73% Asian-American and around 17% White.
The new majority is led by President-elect Harry Jackson, the Black parent of a TJHS freshman. Mr. Jackson did not run on a specific anti-critical race theory platform, he said, but he acknowledged his opposition to the approach is well-known.
Mr. Jackson and the other three new members were backed by the Coalition for Thomas Jefferson, a parents group opposed to what it considers heavy-handed diversity, equity and inclusion measures. The coalition filed a lawsuit in March claiming that the new measures had dramatically reduced the percentage of Asian-Americans in the incoming class.
“It is with a heavy heart and mind that the first communication I provide to you as valued members of Virginia PTA is one of the intent of revocation of the Charter for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology,” Virginia PTA President Pamela Croom wrote in a letter made available to the TJHS community on June 23.
Ms. Nomani and Mr. Jackson said they were stunned by the letter, which they say only offers vague descriptions of alleged violations, including bullying of members and unspecified campaign violations.
Ms. Croom did not respond to a request for comment on specific examples of what prompted the revocation letter and whether the Virginia PTA had ever taken such a step before at another school within a month of a board election.
Norma Marguiles, a TJPTSA member, responded to the revocation notice with a June 23 email to Ms. Croom, offering reams of detailed information on various points and requesting a more detailed explanation of why Ms. Croom and Ms. Qin believe an investigation is necessary.
“I vehemently believe that the TJPF should be an efficient engine for prompting academic excellence and a diverse and qualified student body at TJ,” Ms. Marguiles wrote. “I vehemently believe that the TJPF should be guided by the principles of accountability, efficiency, frugality, publicity, rigor and transparency. Is there any disrespect in my view? Have I made an offensive statement?”
Ms. Croom rejected Mr. Marguiles’ request, saying her organization’s whistleblower policy prohibits her from offering information.
With the controversy swirling, Ms. Qin sent an email at 11:55 p.m. on June 28 saying she was drafting a response to the Virginia PTA and calling a chapter meeting for Monday, when the federal July 4 holiday was celebrated.
Mr. Jackson denounced the move, which he said was made in the middle of the night and outside the seven-day period required before a meeting.
“This meeting was not properly called for, and it will only prove divisive and disruptive in our community,” Mr. Jackson told The Washington Times. “Ms. Qin hasn’t had any input from us on the response to the PTA, she’s making a unilateral decision and move, and I think the only people that might show up on a holiday Monday are her and her supporters.”
“The mostly White Virginia PTA has sent a lynch mob on the mostly minority TJ PTSA, including its first Black president-elect, all because we have parents standing up to the racism of the new admissions process at TJ,” Ms. Nomani said. “It’s the new racism of the woke mob: In their minds, racism is OK if they are doing it.”
The agenda for Monday’s was not made public, and Ms. Nomani said she thought people were being purposely kept in the dark.
“They want this to be a public tribunal of Harry. They want to have a struggle session where they denounce him,” she said.
Mr. Jackson declined to comment on Monday’s meeting, but he said the Virginia PTA revocation letter was “vague and nebulous” and that any response to it should incorporate the thinking of the chapter’s new majority.
Corrected from earlier: Ms. Qin is an attorney representing the TJ Alumni Action group.