Joe Herring | January 3, 2023
(The Lion) — Parents with children attending a top-ranked Virginia high school were shocked to discover administrators withheld notifications of National Merit Scholar awards for years.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHS) in Fairfax County, Virginia is a STEM-centered magnet school with high standards for admission, attracting the best and brightest students in the region. The school is ranked by US News and World Report as the number one high school in the United States.
However, the acknowledgment of excellence appears to end upon admission to the school, as school administrators have abandoned merit-based success in favor of an egalitarian grading scheme.
The district’s equal outcome policy affords students a minimum grade – zero scores are not permitted as any attempt made toward an assignment or test will be graded no lower than 50%. The policy also erases penalties for missing class by treating unexcused absences the same as excused absences. Moreover, neither absence is assigned a point value, so neither affects the student’s overall grade.
TJHS aligned itself fully with the district’s goal of equity to ensure no student rises above another.
In an early December “Strategic Planning” meeting, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid expounded on the district’s commitment to “The Equity Imperative,” described as “equal outcomes for every student, without exception.”
The explicit policy outlined by Dr. Reid requires high-achieving students be handicapped against their lower achieving classmates to ensure outcomes settle to an arbitrary level of “equity.” Despite being established as a school for the gifted, TJHS ignores their charter with damaging consequences to their students.
A report from the New York Post reveals that school administrators have withheld notifications of National Merit awards for two years – precious information for students working toward scholarships and admission to college.
Approximately 1.5 million high school juniors take the PSAT exam annually, with the results determining who earns the prestigious designation as a National Merit scholar. Earning this award opens the door for major scholarships from more than 800 corporate sponsors, along with greatly enhancing college applications.
“TJHS 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,” the Post reported.
In a call with a parent of one of the affected students, Kosatka admitted the decision to withhold the information was intentional.
“We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements,” he said, claiming that he and the principal didn’t want to “hurt” the feelings of students who didn’t get the award.
Scholars don’t receive direct notification of the award from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation; it’s the school’s responsibility to forward the award to the student. The awards are announced in September to give schools and students ample time to include the award in college applications before the early-acceptance deadline of Oct. 31.
Bonitatibus and Kosatka deliberately withheld notification until mid-November. When they finally released the awards, they simply dropped the notifications on student’s desks without explanation.
While TJHS has likely violated civil rights laws by withholding this information since many of the students involved are minorities, disabled or from disadvantaged backgrounds, it has perfectly fulfilled the aims of the “Equity Imperative.” It effectively eliminated the advantage of high-performance despite being a school designed to serve the needs of gifted students.
Parents of affected students are preparing lawsuits to hold administrators personally accountable, along with the school and district that employs them.