Shooting Threat Rattles Virginia’s TJ High School

Nathan Brinkman | May 10, 2024

(EdNews Virginia) — A shooting threat rattled Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (“TJ”) last week, EdNews Virginia has learned. On May 1, TJ Principal Ann Bonitatibus alerted families via email: “Late this morning, we were made aware of graffiti in a school restroom that threatens a shooting at the school on ‘Thursday.’ We have notified the Office of Safety and Security and the Fairfax County Police who have responded and are actively investigating.”

Later on May 1, Bonitatibus followed up with TJ families. “We understand that the news today is unsettling and can spark unease. Parents and guardians are encouraged to have a conversation with your children about how they feel. As a family, you will need to make decisions that feel right to you,” the principal wrote.

Parents have told EdNews Virginia that a “significant” number of families chose to keep their students home on May 2. “My child decided to go to school that day but said the halls were mostly empty and it was oddly quiet,” one mother said. “The teachers locked doors after classes began, which was hard to hear. Thankfully, nothing happened that day, but the thought that something might is always in the back of your mind.”

On May 3, Bonitatibus informed TJ families: “There is still an active investigation into this matter. While that may be unsettling, law enforcement and security officials do not believe that there is an ongoing threat.”

TJ father Harry Jackson says last week’s incident highlights the need for improved security. “We should have a more proactive approach to safety,” Jackson told EdNews Virginia. “Our school continues to rely on the inconsistent response times of law enforcement in a crisis situation. This reactionary approach lacks preventive measures such as enhanced situational awareness, rapid on-site response, integration of non-lethal technologies, and especially the use of armed private security to preempt potential threats.”

Traditionally known for its STEM focus and high academic standards, TJ has drawn controversy in recent years. In late 2020, the public magnet school embraced a new admissions scheme that was designed to boost diversity. Critics maintained the real intent was to reduce the school’s Asian population. Since the admissions changes were enacted, Asian student enrollment has declined.

After three consecutive years at number one, TJ slid to fifth in last year’s U.S. News and World Report ranking of the nation’s best high schools. This year, the school tumbled again — down to 14th.