Prestigious Virginia high school’s admissions policy does not discriminate against Asian Americans: court

One of America’s most prestigious high schools does not discriminate against Asian American students despite claims from parents who argued the school used an illegal policy of “racial balancing,” a panel of federal judges ruled Tuesday.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology changed its admissions policies in 2020 in an effort to make the school more racially diverse, leading to complaints from Asian Americans who said they were wrongly denied acceptance to the institution.

Tuesday’s 2-1 ruling, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, reverses a lower court’s ruling that had deemed the school’s policy illegal.

“The challenged admissions policy does not disparately impact Asian American students and that the Coalition cannot establish that the Board adopted its race-neutral policy with any discriminatory intent,” the court found.


Lawyers in northern Virginia first filed the lawsuit in January 2022, arguing that “racial balancing was always at the forefront” of the school’s policy change. Attorneys cited a text exchange between members of the school’s board of directors in which one member wrote that “there has been an anti-Asian feel underlying some of this, hate to say.”

The court’s ruling Tuesday notes that 71.5% of TJ’s student body in 2019 was Asian American, with another 19.5% being White. There were fewer than 10 Black students in the incoming freshman class for 2020.

The school board’s 2020 changes removed standardized testing requirements in applications as well as the requirement to provide two teacher recommendations. Instead, each middle school in the area around Fairfax, Virginia, was allotted an equal number of slots. Candidates from those schools were not considered by race, but the school did grant increased weight to applicants from lower-income families and those who were still learning English.

The lawsuit argued that the new geographic lottery system was merely an attempt to disguise race-based admissions, an argument that initially won out in court.

The first incoming class after the new policy was implement saw the Black student population rise from 1% to 7% of the student body. The Hispanic population rose from 3% to 11%, and the number of Asian students dropped from 71% to 54%.


Judge Allison Jones Rushing opposed Tuesday’s decision, writing in a dissenting opinion that the school board “reduced offers of enrollment to Asian students at TJ by 26% while increasing enrollment of every other racial group. This was no accident. The Board intended to alter the racial composition of the school in exactly this way.”