- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked Tuesday for an investigation into why National Merit Scholar awards were withheld from students for years at a nationally recognized high school in Fairfax County.

The Republican governor called on Attorney General Jason Miyares to look into why more than 1,200 students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology weren’t alerted about their prestigious awards.

The practice took place as recently as this past fall, according to a December report in City Journal when the students were alerted about their commendation after certain elite college’s early application deadlines had passed. 

“We need to get to the bottom of what appears to be an egregious, deliberate attempt to disadvantage high-performing students at one of the best schools in the country,” Mr. Youngkin said in a press release. “Parents and students deserve answers and Attorney General Miyares will initiate a full investigation. I believe this failure may have caused material harm to those students and their parents, and that this failure may have violated the Virginia Human Rights Act.”

Students are designated as National Merit Scholars when they score in the top 3% nationally on the PSAT. The award provides a huge boost to a student’s college applications and their ability to compete for lucrative scholarships.

The City Journal report, written by the parent of a Thomas Jefferson graduate, detailed how some families discovered that their child was named a National Merit scholar years after the fact.

This fall, 240 students at the top-rated school learned that they were being commended when teachers unceremoniously handed them certificates at their desks.

The National Merit program only informs schools if they have students who achieved the honor, and the schools typically announce their scholars publicly or throw them a party. But Principal Ann Bonitatibus and other Thomas Jefferson administrators reportedly opted to deliver the news in a low-key way so that it wouldn’t hurt the feelings of students who weren’t selected as winners.

“We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements,” Brandon Kosatka, the director of student services, told one parent when he was confronted by the omitted commendation, according to the City Journal report.

The slow-walked — or outright withheld — notices over the National Merit awards is reportedly reflected by the school’s desire for “equal outcomes for every student, without exception,” a policy Thomas Jefferson adopted leading into the 2020-21 school year.

Fabio Zuluaga, the assistant superintendent for Fairfax County schools, told City Journal that Thomas Jefferson handled the news poorly.

“We have to do something special,” Mr. Zuluaga told the City Journal. “A commendation sends a very strong message to the kid, right? Your work is meaningful. If you work hard in life, there are good benefits from that.”

After parents began raising the National Merit issue with Thomas Jefferson’s administrators last month, Mr. Kosatka reportedly sent a Dec. 12 email to the parents of National Merit students apologizing for not sharing the news at the time.

Ms. Bonitatibus has a record of pushing equity-based policies at the elite high school.

During the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, she emailed students and parents urging them to consider “the privileges you hold that others may not.” A federal judge ruled earlier this year that the prestigious school had altered its admissions rules to restrict the number of Asian Americans in a bid for “racial diversity.”

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology was the top-ranked as the nation’s best high school in 2022 by U.S. News & World Report.

• Matt Delaney can be reached at mdelaney@washingtontimes.com.

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