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Federal Appeals Court Grants Stay Order in TJ Admissions Case

The Fairfax County School Board revised the admissions policy for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), an Alexandria, Virginia, magnet school, in the fall of 2020. A group of parents and community people, especially Asian American parents whose children have applied to TJ, sued the Board, claiming that the Board acted with discriminatory intent when it modified the admissions criteria to disadvantage Asian-American students. Following discovery, both parties filed motions for summary judgment based on the established facts. The district court concluded that the Board acted with discriminatory intent and urged the Board to continue using the updated admissions policy on February 25, 2022.

Today, however, a federal appeals court granted a “stay” or a suspension of the district court’s ruling on February 25, which required the Fairfax County School Board to stop using its new admissions process for TJHSST. This means that the class of 2026 will continue with the new admissions process.

Circuit judge Toby Heytens remarked, “it is undisputed that the challenged admissions policy is race neutral—indeed, evaluators are not told the race or even the name of any given applicant.” Heytens adds that under existing precedent, such policies are not constitutionally suspect unless a plaintiff can demonstrate (in addition to “actual discriminatory impact”) that the challenged policy was adopted with discriminatory intent.

Another circuit judge, Rushing, believes that when motivated by prejudice, facially neutral policies like TJ’s admissions plan “are just as abhorrent, and just as unconstitutional, as policies that expressly discriminate on the basis of race.” Rushing disagrees with Heytens acknowledging everyone—even temporarily frustrated applicants and their families—ultimately benefits from a public-school admissions process not tainted by unconstitutional discrimination.

Since the “stay” order was granted to FCPS, the current application process will continue to select the Class of 2026 this spring with 2500+ students in the application pool. This process only includes the Student Portrait Sheet and Problem-Solving Essay components, as well as an evaluation of "special factors" and 1.5% from each school guaranteed admissions.

The stay order ONLY applies to the Class of 2026. This is separate from the appeal decision itself, which is forthcoming. The forthcoming appeals court decision will apply on a long-term basis, to future classes. However, the appeals court decision could then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)

Regardless of the final court ruling, the courses at TJTestPrep will be updated to match the chosen admissions format. Students who have already enrolled with us will not be required to re-enroll to get access to these changes. We will continue to keep a close eye on the situation.

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