Thursday, April 18, 2024

Supreme Court won’t review Thomas Jefferson High School admissions policy – The Washington Post

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The Supreme Court will not consider a challenge the admissions system of a prestigious Northern Virginia magnet school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which administrators said opened the program to a broader socioeconomic range of students, but opponents claimed to have discriminated against Asian American applicants.

The high court’s decision Tuesday not to take up the case drew sharp dissent from two conservative justices and follows its ruling last term rejecting race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and at the University of North Carolina. This historic decision overturned decades of precedent and radically changed the way private and public universities across the country select their students.

The legal battle in Virginia pits a group of parents, called the Coalition for TJ, and the Fairfax County School Board over an admissions policy designed to encourage diversity at the school without explicitly considering race . Thomas Jefferson, known locally as TJ and often ranked as the best high school in the country, changed its admissions process in 2020 in part to boost racial diversity at the school, which had long listed percentages at a number of black and Hispanic students.

TJ’s revised admissions process used a more holistic review of applicants taking into account what admissions experts call “race-neutral” factors, such as the neighborhood a student lives in and their socio-economic status. -economic. The new process also removed a notoriously difficult admissions test and $100 application fee and reserved a set number of spots for students at each of Fairfax County’s middle schools. Applicants must have a minimum grade point average of 3.5 while taking upper-level courses, write a problem-solving essay, and submit a “Student Portrait Sheet.”

The first admitted class saw an increase in black and Latino enrollment, as well as a greater number of low-income students, English learners and girls. The percentage of Asian American students dropped from about 70 percent to 50 percent, sparking accusations that the changes were aimed at reducing Asian American enrollment.

A group of parents opposed to the changes filed a lawsuit against the district, alleging the new process was discriminatory.

As is often the case in court orders, the High Court majority did not provide a reason to allow the appeal court’s decision upholding the new policy to stand. The two dissenting justices, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas, said the lower court was wrong to uphold the school’s new admissions policy and would have reconsidered the case.

What the lower court “held, in essence, is that intentional racial discrimination is constitutional as long as it is not too severe.” This reasoning is indefensible and calls for correction,” wrote Alito, joined by Thomas.

A district court judge initially sided with the parents’ group in 2022, calling the new admissions process “racially balanced” and “patently unconstitutional.” Then, in May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision, ruling in favor of the Fairfax County school board and saying the process did not discriminate against U.S. students of Asian origin.

Coalition for TJ, the group formed in opposition to the new system, asked the Supreme Court to intervene in August.

“In these cases, local school boards adopted policies intended to balance the racial composition of their schools at the expense of Asian Americans,” the coalition wrote in its petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the matter. affair.

Similar legal challenges against admissions-based high schools have been filed across the country and have been seen as the next possible frontier of admissions challenges after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Harvard and UNC cases in June.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

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