NAACP, Local Advocates File Discrimination Complaint Against FCPS

Discrimination in Thomas Jefferson admissions process begins even before applications are due, complaint to U.S. Department of Education says

A complaint filed Monday by two local advocacy groups alleges Fairfax County Public Schools is perpetuating discrimination against black, Latino and disabled students through the admission process for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST).

The Coalition of the Silence (COTS), a group former school board member Tina Hone founded to seek equity for all students within FCPS, and the Fairfax branch of the NAACP filed the discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, asserting FCPS has committed "clear violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." 

At press time, FCPS had not yet had time to review the complaint, spokesman John Torre said.

While black and Hispanic students make up about 10 percent and 22 percent of the FCPS student body, respectively, they make up 1.5 percent and 2.7 percent of the TJHSST student body, the complaint says.

The complaint, written by Hone and NAACP-Fairfax County's Education Chair Charisse Espy Glassman, comes two business days after a Fairfax County School Board . At the work session, the board discussed both the lack of diversity and the declining math scores at the the Governor's School for science and technology in recent years. The board has charged FCPS staff to begin researching how to improve in both areas.

But the work session did not satisfy those who argue the process is discriminatory long before a student chooses to apply to the prestigious school, which recently earned No. 2 on U.S. News and World Report's annual ranking of U.S. high schools.

Sixty-four percent of students admitted to TJHSST attend middle schools with Level 4 Advanced Academic Middle School Centers. Most of the centers have limited diversity, carrying minority populations that don't reflect the county's demographic makeup, the complaint says.

"In essence, Fairfax County operates a separate and unequal 'sub' school system within its overarching taxpayer-funded, public school system," the complaint reads. "That separate and unequal subsystem is comprised of a network of level 4 advanced academic centers where Black and Latino students are grossly underrepresented."

More than half of students admitted to TJHSST's class of 2016 : Carson, Longfellow, Rocky Run and Kilmer. Black and Latino student populations at all four schools are far smaller than the percentage of black (10.4 percent) and Latino (20.6) students across the county's school system.

"In a room that was packed to capacity primarily by TJ parents and staff, the conversation almost immediately veered away from concerns regarding the underrepresentation of African American and Latino students at TJ and towards discussion about how to ensure the 'right' FCPS students would get into TJ," the complaint reads, referring to the July 19 work session on the admissions process.

At the session, board members and TJHSST officials said an increasing number of admitted students are struggling with their math courses — a sign that the application process is selecting students not ready for the rigorous TJHSST courses.

In the complaint, Hone and Glassman argue that adjusting the admissions criteria to weigh test scores more heavily will only lead to similar disproportionate numbers at TJHSST.

"Test scores — without additional context and balance — are not a reliable predictor of future success," the complaint reads. "On information and belief, FCPS has never been able to produce longitudinal data supporting the myth that test scores have predictive value."

The Office of Civil Rights can choose to open an investigation after it reads the complaint, but is not obligated to follow up on the document, Hone said in a Monday phone interview with Patch. An investigation would reveal data that to date has largely been unavailable, Hone said, along with a much deeper look at the admissions process and issues associated with it.

"We felt it was our responsibility to sort of lay out with as much clarity as we could what we think the actual problem is ... a lot of the conversation has been around the edges but there's something much bigger going on that we have to deal with," Hone said. "We'll see what happens. I'm hopeful."

Vienna Patch Editor contributed reporting for this story.

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Todd August 02, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Granted I don't know what the exact admissions process is now. When I was there 15 years ago, test scores and grades were the first round, and that helped place a floor under the students who made that cut to ensure they would not be left behind. The next round considered essays, teacher recommendations, and other activities to make sure they didn't end up with 400 robots. And it seemed to work pretty well.
Todd August 02, 2012 at 11:55 PM
From what I have read recently, though, they have made the test easier and incorporated more subjective criteria early on, which is a huge mistake. The test needs to be hard to winnow out those who would not be able to make it four years at the school; it sounds harsh, but that's the plain and simple of it. And subjective stuff should be left to the second round, as it is of primary importance to the functioning of the school to make sure the ground that needs to be covered by the objective testing is covered first.
Jody August 04, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Four hundred "robots?" Do you mean that they are so into their studies that they hardly seem to do anything else and are possibly lacking in personality! So what?The phrase "math and science geek" is probably rooted in truth. If the school is filled with geeks and robots who came out on top, that's fine with me. That's who this school is for!
ss March 26, 2013 at 02:01 AM
It's who you know and not what you know that gets you into TJ. Same for FCPS employment practices. People of color don't stand a chance applying there for work. They give you the stare down with a look in their eyes that say, "Are you kidding me." When you walk into these interview rooms and your complexion don't match theirs, you are a most unwelcome guest
Anoneemous March 26, 2013 at 02:47 AM
SS: Why is it that "...People of color don't stand a chance applying there for work.?" Does it have anything to do with adequate qualifications? Tell us please.


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