Nation’s No. 1 high school facing state probe over merit award delay

Was it a deliberate attempt to disadvantage high achievers or just a lack of stamps that's to blame?

Thomas Jefferson High School, ranked among the nation’s best, now faces a state investigation over what Virginia’s governor called an effort to “disadvantage high-performing students.”

Administrators at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology were accused in a recent news report of withholding PSAT scores from more than 1,000 students over the past few years, thereby preventing them from listing National Merit Awards on college applications. The high school, part of Fairfax County Public Schools near Washington D.C., was recently ranked No. 1 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

“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,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in the statement, in which he ordered the state’s attorney general to open an 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.”

Administrators acknowledged that “human error” caused the delay in this fall’s National Merit Award notifications, adding that students and families were promptly informed of their achievements as soon as staff discovered the problem. The school also reported the awards to every college and university to which the students had applied.

Administrators vowed to share any additional findings from its ongoing investigation into what they called a “unique situation.”

The delay was first reported by Thomas Jefferson High School parent Asra Q. Nomani, who is also an author and former Wall Street Journal reporter. Her article, which appeared on the website of the conservative-leaning magazine City Journal, accused Principal Ann Bonitatibus and Director of Student Services Brandon Kosatka of withholding National Merit notifications over the last five years in an equity-minded effort to not discourage students who did not qualify for the award.

FETC 2023

The Future of Education Technology® Conference takes place live and in person Jan. 23-26, 2023, in New Orleans. Register now!

Most of the students who have been impacted by what Nomani calls a “war on merit” are Asian, she wrote. The article also claims that Kosatka admitted to a parent that the delays were intentional and the plan was to notify winners in a “low-key way.” However, Nomani acknowledged that National Merit staff did not put enough stamps on the package sent this fall to Thomas Jefferson High School notifying them of their awards.

The investigation would be Youngkin’s second high-profile probe into one of the state’s school districts. This fall, Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler was fired and now faces criminal charges after a Virginia grand jury accused him of transferring a teenager who had been charged with sexually assaulting a student in a high school bathroom. The teenager was then arrested on suspicion of assaulting another student at his new school.

More from DA: Feds reach a deal to protect disabled students in Florida district from seclusion

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

Most Popular