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High school admissions case declined by Supreme Court

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(The Center Square) — The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to hear a case on altered admissions policies plaintiffs described as “race-neutral proxies” at the elite Northern Virginia school Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

A federal district court in 2022 sided with the plaintiffs, a group of concerned “parents, students, alumni, staff and community members” known as the Coalition for TJ, who believed the new policies discriminated against Asian American students. But a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Fairfax County Public Schools in 2023, reversing the lower court’s ruling.

“The policy visits no racially disparate impact on Asian American students,” wrote Judge Robert King in the majority opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Additionally, the court found the Coalition failed to prove discriminatory intent.

That’s when the plaintiffs decided to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

“The Fourth Circuit’s ruling merits this Court’s review because it presents a question of national importance that the Court has yet to answer directly,” wrote the Coalition’s counsel in their petition. “Such policies raise the question of whether racial balancing is any less ‘patently unconstitutional’… when it is done through ostensibly neutral criteria rather than explicitly racial classifications.”

The high court was not sufficiently persuaded.

For the 2021-22 school year, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, consistently ranked as one of the best schools in the country, eliminated an entrance exam from its admissions criteria, raised the GPA requirement, and added a quota to accept eligible students from all participating middle schools. Though extra points are awarded to applicants from economically disadvantaged or English language-learning backgrounds, admissions staff do not know the student’s name, gender, race or ethnicity.

Since 2020, the percentage of Asian students at the school has decreased from 72% to 65.8%, while the percentage of black and Hispanic students has more than doubled. There has also been an increase in the population of white students.

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