Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin began 2023 by asking the state’s Attorney General Jason Miyares to investigate the allegation that officials at Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ) intentionally withheld notifications of National Merit awards from the school’s students and families (most of them are Asians) in the name of “equity” and “inclusion.”
Asra Q. Nomani, a human rights activist and a proud mom of a TJ graduate, broke the latest scandal at the school right before Christmas. According to Nomani, the scandal was initially uncovered by another TJ mom, Shawna Yashar, whose son took the PSAT test. He was recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation “as a Commended Student in the top 3 percent nationwide — one of about 50,000 students earning that distinction.” It was the kind of honor that would have helped his applications for colleges and scholarships last fall had the TJ officials not withheld his award announcement. When the TJ officials eventually notified him of his award, the deadline for his college applications had already passed, which rendered the award useless.
Nomani learned that her son, a graduate of TJ’s class of 2021, was never told by school officials that he was a “Commended Student” in 2020. Even more infuriating is that these two young men’s experiences were not the result of some honest one-time mistake.
Nomani discovered that “the principal, Ann Bonitatibus, and the director of student services, Brandon Kosatka, have been withholding this information from families and the public for years, affecting the lives of at least 1,200 students over the principal’s tenure of five years.” These officials’ actions (or inactions) disproportionally hurt Asian students because the majority of the school’s student body is Asian. By intentionally withholding awards and eventually delivering them late and in a low-key way, these officials robbed the students and their families of chances to celebrate hard-earned achievements.
In addition, these officials caused undue harm to these students’ college applications and scholarships. For some first-generation immigrants with no other financial resources to fall back on, the damage caused by these school officials’ actions could have a lifetime effect, with some students having to settle for less prestigious colleges or be forced to take out more student loans.
After Nomani broke the story, TJ’s director of student services, Brandon Kosatka, justified her action by insisting, “We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements.” Does she understand that celebrating someone’s achievement and acknowledging someone’s effort is an important part of recognizing students as individuals?
Meanwhile, Bonitatibus “still hasn’t publicly recognized the students or told parents from earlier years that their students won the awards. And she hasn’t yet delivered the missing certificates.”
TJ is a prime example of the woke left’s systemic racism against Asian Americans in our education system. Besides withholding awards, TJ’s woke officials and liberals of the Fairfax County School Board also canceled the school’s merit-based and race-blind admission exam to increase the student body’s “diversity,” which has become a code word for “purging qualified Asians.” The result speaks for itself: Asian students make up 54 percent of the class of 2025, a dramatic decrease from 73 percent of the class of 2021.
Another elite high school that followed TJ’s lead and canceled its merit-based admission in 2021 has experienced disastrous results. San Francisco’s Lowell High School, once the best high school in the city, dropped out of the top 100 ranking of high schools nationwide for the first time in the school’s history after woke officials canceled the school’s merit-based admission and replaced it with a lottery system. After Asian American residents in the city successfully recalled three leftist members of the school board, the new members reinstated merit-based admission at Lowell last year.
At TJ, a group of concerned parents organized a group called the “Coalition for Thomas Jefferson High School,” and they sued Fairfax County Public School District for the school’s “unconstitutional” and discriminatory new admission policy. A federal judge ruled in favor of the coalition last year, but an appeals court stayed the decision.
The coalition filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court last year, but the high court declined to block TJ’s new anti-Asian admission policy. The high court decided before it heard two cases challenging affirmative action-based admissions policies at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University. The oral arguments of the two cases have given much hope that the Supreme Court will uphold America’s principle of equality under the law by ruling in June this year that affirmative action-based admission policies are unconstitutional.
But Asian Americans cannot rest our hope in one court’s ruling alone. A lot more should be done at the state level. That is why Youngkin’s announcement of launching a civil rights investigation of TJ officials who withheld awards from students is welcome news. Youngkin said, “Parents and students deserve answers. … 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.” Youngkin was spot on.
What these school officials did was a violation of students’ civil rights. Youngkin’s consistent focus on education and the clarity in his messaging explains why many Asian voters supported him during his gubernatorial race.
I sincerely hope Youngkin’s investigation will not only right the wrongs for affected Asian American students and their families at TJ but also become a rallying cry for all patriotic Americans. The most pervasive form of institutional racism widely practiced today in the United States is the anti-Asian hate in our education system. From eliminating gifted and talented programs in K-12, to canceling merit-based entrance exams to elite high schools, to dropping standard tests from college admissions, the objective is to reduce Asian American representation regardless of our qualification and effort because we are the “wrong” kind of minority.
The woke left’s war on merit in our education system hurts more than Asian Americans. The war on merit is a war on fundamental American values and America’s future. No society can advance or even maintain its current standard of living if its education system discourages the pursuit of excellence, celebrates mediocrity, and treats people differently based on the color of their skin. Therefore, the pushback of the woke left’s war on merit in education should not be just Asian Americans’ fight. We need all concerned Americans to join us.
Hopefully, 2023 will be the year we stop the war on merit.