|The entrance to Thomas Jefferson High School on Braddock Road, Annandale|
The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education July 23, was joined by the Fairfax County chapter of the NAACP. The Coalition of The Silence was launched in January to represent the interests of economically disadvantaged students, minorities, and students with disabilities in FCPS public schools.
Of the 480 students in the Class of 2016 at TJ, only seven (1.5 percent) are African American and 13 (2.7) are Hispanic. In contrast, 26.3 percent are white and 64.2 percent are Asian. The remaining 5.4 percent are listed as “multiracial/other.” Only six students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
“We frankly feel we have no choice,” Tina Hone told the Annandale Blog. “This is not a new issue,” she said, noting that the school board has been talking about it for years.
“At the meeting on the 19th, the entire conversation and the presentation we saw gave no indication that FCPS will take reasonable action on this. It’s shameful,” Hone said.
Hone was referring to a July 19 school board meeting where the board talked about changing the admissions process in response to data that showed a growing number of TJ students need remedial work to meet the school’s high standards.
“We seem to have the worst of both worlds, unfortunately,” said Mason board member Sandy Evans at that meeting. “We’ve got students being admitted now who are not prepared to do the work, and we also have not increased diversity.”
The nationally recognized, highly selective school lends prestige to Fairfax County. but while it’s in Annandale, it doesn’t do much for the students who live here. A handful of middle schools send the vast majority of students to TJ. For example, among students in the class of 2009-10, 66 were from Longfellow (Falls Church), 45 were from Rocky Run (Chantilly), 68 were from Carson (Herndon), and 41 were from Kilmer (Vienna).
Some parents pay hundreds of dollars to private companies to prepare their students for the school’s rigorous entrance exam.
Among students in the TJ class of 2009-10, a much smaller percentage came from middle schools in the Annandale/Mason area. Only six were from Glasgow, 10 were from Jackson, two were from Poe, and none were from Holmes.
The complaint charges that black and Latino students are underrepresented at TJ because FCPS fails to assign enough of them to programs for gifted students in elementary schools. As a result, by the time they get to the eighth grade, it’s too late for them to be considered for TJ. If everyone can’t compete on a level playing field, the system is discriminatory, the complaint alleges.
“Enormous disparities in the admission of black and Latino students to TJ—a public high school currently ranked number two in the nation, is simply unacceptable,” the coalition states. “These disparities in TJ admissions are symptomatic of far deeper patterns of discrimination across the Fairfax County Public School system that begin as early as kindergarten.”
According to Hone, “it doesn’t matter if FCPS’s failure to resolve the issue is intentional or not. It still violates Title VI.”
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits schools receiving federal funds from discrimination on the basis of race, national, origin, gender, or other factors.