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Parents Demand Firings After Prestigious School Reportedly Withheld Awards From Students

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  • Parents of a high-profile Virginia school are calling for administration officials to resign following a report that showed the school withheld academic awards from its students. 
  • Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) had been failing to tell students, mostly Asian, that they had received the National Merit award, a rare honor used on college applications to obtain scholarships, according to a report.
  • “We met with Superintendent [Reid] and we were very explicit in telling her that this is just another thing that’s created a war meritocracy. Just one more thing that the school has done to the children that are hardworking and that really want to do well,” Srilheka Palle, a TJHSST parent, told the DCNF

Parents of a prestigious Virginia high school are demanding educators be terminated after a report showed the school withheld academic awards from students.

A recent report by Asra Nomani, a parental rights and education activist, showed that administrators at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) had been failing to notify students, mostly Asian, that they had received the National Merit Scholarship commendation, an honor used for college applications and to obtain scholarships, to protect the feelings of students who did not earn the award. A coalition of parents are calling for the firing of several TJHSST educators, saying their actions have contributed to a “war on meritocracy,” TJHSST parents told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“We have to hold the administration accountable. Many organizations are signatories of a letter addressed to the school board for Fairfax County Public Schools and its superintendent, Michelle Reid, demanding the adoption of a number of measures,” Norma Margulies, a TJHSST parent, told the DCNF. “For example, we are calling for the termination of the contract of the principal and the director of student services. We are requesting an official investigation into this case by [Virginia] Attorney General, Jason Miyares. We are pleased to learn that the Lieutenant Governor, Winsome Sears, has called for this investigation. We are also requesting that the students affected by the withholding of information are notified.”

The school’s alleged withholding of the National Merit award came to light in December when TJHSST parents Shawna Yashar and Nomani allegedly discovered that the school failed to notify students that they had received the award in order to not “hurt” the feelings of those who did not earn the award. Each year, 1.5 million students apply for the National Merit award, which is used to boost college applications, and just 7,250 are named finalists for the award.

“In previous years, under [Principal Ann Bonitatibus’] leadership, parents were not notified when their students received National Merit Commended Students awards, and did not receive the certificates that the National Merit Scholarship Corporation had sent students,” the letter by TJHSST parents to the school district and obtained by the DCNF said. “This failure to notify parents, who at TJHSST are frequently new immigrant and second-language learners and often do not know what questions they need to ask about these types of recognitions, is a serious breach of a culturally-responsive culture.”

A coalition of parents met with the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent Michelle Reid on Dec. 30 regarding the report, the parents told the DCNF.

Srilekha Palle, a TJHSST parent at the meeting with Reid, told the DCNF that the school harmed students by failing to notify them of their achievements.

“We met with Superintendent [Reid] and we were very explicit in telling her that this is just another thing that’s created a war meritocracy,” Palle told the DCNF. “Just one more thing that the school has done to the children that are hardworking and that really want to do well.”

FCPS officials paid $455,000 to hire a California equity contractor to collect and analyze student data to develop district goals and develop an “Equity-centered Strategic Planning” document at TJHSST, according to the Fairfax Times. The equity contract was not connected to the withholding of the awards, which “was a one-time human error in the fall of 2022 only,” FCPS previously told the Daily Caller.

“Once the issue regarding the fall 2022 notifications came to light, counselors sent emails and made follow-up calls to each college where these students had applied and informed them of the National Merit Scholarship Commendations,” the FCPS spokesperson said. “To suggest a deliberate intent to withhold this information would be inaccurate and contrary to the values of FCPS.”

On Tuesday, TJHSST parents plan to protest the handling of the awards and “the damages their children suffered because of the administration’s reckless indifference,” according to a press release obtained by the DCNF.

Palle told the DCNF that while the school seems to be receptive to accountability and willing to correct their mistakes, TJHSST parents plan to stay relentless.

“We don’t want this to be an empty, bureaucratic meeting,” Palle told the DCNF. “We want to see some action. We don’t want this to be a nice meeting just to kind of pacify us. I’m skeptical about some of these meetings. This is the future of our children. I want to see action. So yes, it was a productive meeting. It was just a very nice meeting, but until then I want to see action.”

FCPS, TJHSST and the National Merit Scholarship Program did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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