Top U.S. High School Delayed National Merit Award Notifications

Leaders of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology waited for about a month to distribute certificates to National Merit commended students and semi-finalists, past the October 31 deadline for students to note the awards on their applications for early acceptance to select colleges, according to a report in City Journal and the New York Post.

The report by journalist and activist Asra Nomani links the delay of National Merit awards to Thomas Jefferson high’s equity efforts, and its new “equal outcomes for every student, without exception” strategy. Most of the students who had their award notification delayed were Asian, Nomani reported.

According to the report, Thomas Jefferson high’s principal, Ann Bonitaibus, told a concerned parent in an email that the school had received the National Merit certificates in mid-October, and that she had signed them within 48 hours. But the awards were not distributed by homeroom teachers until November 14, after the early application deadline had passed, the report stated. “Teachers dropped the certificates unceremoniously on students’ desks,” Nomani wrote.

The report also states that Brandon Kosatka, the director of student services at Thomas Jefferson high, admitted on a call with the concerned parent, Shawna Yashar, that the decision not to inform parents of the National Merit awards and to inform the students in a low-key manner was intentional. “We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements,” Kosatka told Yashar, according to the report.

Yashar found out about the school’s decisions about informing students about their awards after she learned that her son was recognized as a “commended student” for being among the nation’s top 3 percent of students. “Keeping these certificates from students is theft by the state,” Yashar told Nomani, who first reported the story in City Journal. Nomani’s report was republished in the New York Post. Nomani’s son graduated from Thomas Jefferson high in 2021, and she wrote that she learned that he was a National Merit commended student “two years after the fact.”

Nomani reported that the decision by Thomas Jefferson high’s leaders to delay the notification of National Merit awards comes as the school is implementing a new strategy of “equitable outcomes for every student, without exception.” School administrators, she reported, have implemented an “equitable grading” policy that eliminates zeros, and gives student a grade of 50 percent just for showing up. “It’s a race to the bottom,” Nomani wrote.

Nomani also released a series of redacted emails from concerned parents to Thomas Jefferson high administrators, which reveal growing frustration over Fairfax County’s school policies.

“Mr. Kosataka, you lied to me. I do not appreciate that. As someone who has been responsible for these notifications for 15 years you undoubtably [sic] knew how they worked,” one parent wrote in an email last month.

Bonitatibus has lobbied extensively to incorporate equity-based policies at Thomas Jefferson high, which was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the nation’s best high school in 2022.

During the summer of protests following the murder of George Floyd, Bonitatibus emailed students and parents urging them to consider “the privileges you hold that others may not.” In February 2022, a federal judge acknowledged that Thomas Jefferson high had altered its admissions processes to restrict the number of Asian Americans in a bid for “racial diversity.”

Editor’s Note: This report has been updated to clarify that National Merit awards were not delivered for about a month to students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

More from National Review