It’s Harrison Bergeron all the way down.
Virginia parents are outraged after a top-ranked high school allegedly delayed notifying students of national academic honors in the name of “equity,” making them unable to account for the recognition in some college applications.
Fairfax County parent Asra Nomani joined “Fox & Friends First” on Wednesday to discuss why the school delayed the awards and the importance of meritocracy in the classroom.
“This year the entire controversy just blew up because the kids got their certificate, weeks after early college application deadlines, just dropped on their desks as if it was just another piece of paper,” Nomani told co-host Todd Piro.
“And this amazing mom named Shawna Yashar started asking questions, just like every parent’s got to do,” she continued. “From issues of the drag queen story hours to indoctrination in the schools, this is another form of this race to the bottom that the schools are going through right now.”
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) in Alexandria, Virginia, allegedly delayed academic awards for years, according to Nomani, because of its ploy to advocate “equal outcomes for every student, without exception.”
The school has even implemented a policy awarding students a 50% just for showing up to class, and administrators have eliminated zeroes entirely.
The delayed awards in question are given by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which recognizes top-performing high schoolers nationwide. TJ received the 2022 honors in October but did not distribute them to students until a month later, after early-application deadlines had passed, according to Nomani. Nomani’s son, a 2021 TJ graduate, was honored as a Commended Student in September 2020 but was never notified, she wrote in City Journal.
When Yashar, the mother who originally sounded the alarm on the school’s delay, brought the issue to the forefront, she was met with pushback from the school, Nomani said.
“The school wanted to recognize students as individuals, not their achievements, as if the two had to be separated,” she said.
Nomani wrote about this bizarre — and highly litigable — practice at City Journal.
For years, two administrators at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) have been withholding notifications of National Merit awards from the school’s families, most of them Asian, thus denying students the right to use those awards to boost their college-admission prospects and earn scholarships. This episode has emerged amid the school district’s new strategy of “equal outcomes for every student, without exception.” School administrators, for instance, have implemented an “equitable grading” policy that eliminates zeros, gives students a grade of 50 percent just for showing up, and assigns a cryptic code of “NTI” for assignments not turned in. It’s a race to the bottom.
An intrepid Thomas Jefferson parent, Shawna Yashar, a lawyer, uncovered the withholding of National Merit awards. Since starting as a freshman at the school in September 2019, her son, who is part Arab American, studied statistical analysis, literature reviews, and college-level science late into the night. This workload was necessary to keep him up to speed with the advanced studies at TJ, which U.S. News & World Report ranks as America’s top school.
Last fall, along with about 1.5 million U.S. high school juniors, the Yashar teen took the PSAT, which determines whether a student qualifies as a prestigious National Merit scholar. When it came time to submit his college applications this fall, he didn’t have a National Merit honor to report–but it wasn’t because he hadn’t earned the award. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a nonprofit based in Evanston, Illinois, had recognized him as a Commended Student in the top 3 percent nationwide–one of about 50,000 students earning that distinction. Principals usually celebrate National Merit scholars with special breakfasts, award ceremonies, YouTube videos, press releases, and social media announcements.
But not at TJ. School officials had decided to withhold announcement of the award. Indeed, it turns out 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. Recognition by National Merit opens the door to millions of dollars in college scholarships and 800 Special Scholarships from corporate sponsors.
I learned–two years after the fact–that National Merit had recognized my son, a graduate of TJ’s Class of 2021, as a Commended Student in a September 10, 2020, letter that National Merit sent to Bonitatibus. But the principal, who lobbied that fall to nix the school’s merit-based admission test to increase “diversity,” never told us about it. Parents from earlier years told me that she also didn’t tell them about any Commended Student awards. One former student said he learned he had won the award through a random email from the school to a school-district email account that students rarely check; the principal neither told his parents nor made a public announcement.
“Keeping these certificates from students is theft by the state,” says Yashar. Bonitatibus didn’t notify parents or the public. What’s more, it could be a civil rights violation, says local parent advocate Debra Tisler, with most TJ students in a protected class of “gifted” students, most of them racial minorities, many with disabilities, and most coming from immigrant families whose parents speak English as a second language….
In a call with Yashar, Kosatka admitted that the decision to withhold the information from parents and inform the students in a low-key way was intentional. “We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements,” he told her, claiming that he and the principal didn’t want to “hurt” the feelings of students who didn’t get the award.
Sue them. Sue them personally, if possible.