Youngkin Calls for Law to Protect Student Achievement From Merit Award Withholders

News Release | January 19, 2023

(Governor of Virginia) — Governor Glenn Youngkin announced today that he has requested Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (Henrico) and Delegate Nick Freitas (Culpeper) to sponsor legislation on his behalf to require Virginia schools to inform students and their parents about National Merit Scholarships and other awards. 

In December, it was discovered that Fairfax County had been withholding National Merit awards from students, thereby jeopardizing their scholarship opportunities. In response to these reports, Governor Youngkin asked Attorney General Miyares to investigate Fairfax County’s handling of more than 1,000 students who were not notified of National Merit Awards. Now, the controversy has spread to sixteen Northern Virginia schools, including Loudoun and Prince William counties, who delayed notifying students of their National Merit recognition. 

“We now know that at least 16 schools across three different school divisions in Northern Virginia withheld notification of accolades from high-performing students in the name of ‘equity.’ Parents are rightfully upset and they should be,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “In Virginia, parents matter and the legislation I’ve asked Senator Dunnavant and Delegate Freitas to introduce today will ensure that merit and accolades are celebrated in the Commonwealth. We will not allow our students and their parents to be left uninformed of their hard-earned recognition in what we now know was widespread across more than a dozen schools in multiple school divisions.”

“There has been a pattern of multiple schools withholding information regarding merit awards from students and parents. This legislation is a common sense solution that will prevent discrimination against students who have worked hard and earned recognition,” said Senator Siobhan Dunnavant.

“Students who work hard and achieve the highest levels of academic excellence deserve both the recognition they are entitled to as well as the opportunities that these awards afford them when applying for college. This bill will ensure that students in Virginia will never be denied this recognition, because a few misguided administrators put their ideological agenda before the best interests of these hard working students,” said Delegate Nick Freitas.

“What happened in Northern Virginia was truly reprehensible, and I appreciate the steps taken by the Governor and Attorney General to address the situation. This bill is a common-sense approach to promoting opportunity and preventing punishment for academic success,” said Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears. 

“As a child of an immigrant, I know that education is the doorway to the American Miracle. It is supposed to create equal opportunities for our students – not equal outcomes at the expense of others. While my office continues our civil rights investigation into Fairfax County and looks into potential violations at additional school systems, I applaud the Governor for introducing legislation that would prevent this from happening again,” said Attorney General Jason Miyares.

The legislation would prohibit any school board, public school, including Governor’s Schools, or employee from withholding recognition, awards, or postsecondary scholarship eligibility earned by a student who was transferred solely to a school system. National Merit Scholarships and other awards would be required to be sent to students and their parents as soon as possible after the school system receives the information.  This measure will not affect the Attorney General’s investigation in any manner but ensure that this never happens again in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  

The House version of the legislation is available here.