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Fairfax County School Board Member Admits ‘Anti-Asian Feel’ to New High School Admission Process

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Thomas Jefferson High School, Alexandria, Va., July 1, 2020 (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A Fairfax County school board member admitted in a text message to a fellow board member that the district’s new equity-focused admissions policy for an advanced high school in Virginia has undertones of anti-Asian discrimination.

School board member Abrar Omeish texted board member Stella Pekarsky: “I mean there has been an anti asian feel underlying some of this, hate to say it lol,” according to correspondence obtained by non-profit Parents Defending Education. Pekarsky responded: “…I always told people that talking about TJ is a stupid waste of tome [sic].” Omeish replied: “Of course it is…They’re discriminated against in this process too.”

Rolling back its historically merit-based, race-blind criteria, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology made its admission policy in 2020 more subjective and race-based to foster a more diverse student body. The result of the policy has been a steep reduction in Asian-American students, who have largely replaced by other racial minorities. Last summer, school district officials announced that Asian-American students would make up 54 percent of the incoming freshman class in fall 2021, down from 73 percent the previous year.

The judging process relies on a scoring rubric comprising application elements including GPA, a personal quality assessment, and problem-solving essay, but also a bonus section called “Experience Factors.” According to that metric, students can earn extra points towards admission if they are economically disadvantaged, an English language learner, someone requiring special education, or from an underrepresented school in the district.

In an email exchange, Thomas Jefferson’s admissions director, Jeremy Shughart, asked a school district official, Lisa Hruda, if she could “provide us a review of our current weighting and whether or not this would be enough to level the playing field for our historically underrepresented groups.” He added that white and Asian students are not considered historically underrepresented.

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