One of the Top Schools in the Nation Allegedly Discriminates Against Black and Latino Students

Two groups have filed a complaint with the Department of Education, arguing that Latino and black students are disproportionately underrepresented at Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, one of the most prestigious schools in the nation.

Filed by the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP and the Coalition of The Silence, the federal complaint alleges that these minorities are discriminated against when it comes to admission to Thomas Jefferson, known as TJ.

“Enormous disparities in the admission of Black and Latino students to TJ – a public high school currently ranked among the best in the nation – is simply unacceptable.” former Fairfax County School Board member Tina Hone, founder of the Coalition of The Silence, said in a statement.

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TJ, located in Alexandria, Vt., is regularly ranked as a high-performing school, even coming in as No. 10 on Newsweek’s 2012 list of America’s best schools. Officials for the Fairfax County Public School system could not comment because they had not yet reviewed the complaint, spokesman John Torre told The Washington Post.

The complaint argues that because the process to identify “gifted” students in elementary and middle schools in the Fairfax system shuts out black and Latino students early, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to applying to TJ in eighth grade.

Most students who enter TJ first attend middle schools with “Level IV Advanced Academic services” for gifted students. Students must qualify to be a part of this gifted group through testing and observation, and blacks and Latinos are unidentified and underrepresented here, compared to their proportion in the school population. 

While black and Latino students make up 32 percent of the Fairfax school population, only 4.2 percent of TJ’s incoming class falls in the two groups. The school system has made efforts to fix the problem, but the complaint filed argues that the subjective admission process still hurts these minority students.

“There are longstanding challenges with the under-identification of black and Latino students for advanced academic services at the elementary and middle school levels,” Charisse Espy-Glassman, education committee chair for the Fairfax NAACP, said in a statement.

Do you think this is a valid complaint? Let us know in the comments.

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Kelly Zhou hails from the Bay Area and is currently a student in Los Angeles. She has written on a variety of topics, predominantly focusing on politics and education. Email Kelly | @kelllyzhou |