The complaint alleges that black and Latino students, as well as students with disabilities, are being shut out of Thomas Jefferson, or TJ, long before they apply in eighth grade because of Fairfax County Public Schools’ systematic failure to identify them for gifted-education programs that begin in elementary school.
Fairfax school officials could not comment because they had not had a chance to review the complaint, said spokesman John Torre.
The school system does not have numerical targets for minority enrollment at TJ. But officials have tried in recent years to increase the number of members of underrepresented student groups at the school.
Admissions experts visit every middle school to encourage and help prospective applicants; teachers are required in their recommendation letters to explain how students would contribute to diversity at the school; and the admissions process has been tweaked several times in an effort to capture the full range of students’ abilities. Some promising minority students are tapped for math and science enrichment programs.
Even so, the admissions gap persists.
Hone said she and others decided to file the complaint partly because they felt longstanding concerns about diversity at TJ have been drowned out in recent months by a new worry: that the admissions process is failing to identify the brightest math and science students.
Advocates for gifted students have been pressing the School Board to remedy that problem by overhauling the TJ admissions process, giving more weight to applicants’ test scores and less to written essays. Hone said that change would not fix underlying issues that affect black and Latino students’ prospects.
She said she is not seeking specific remedies at this time, but instead wants to bring attention to the scope of the problem.
“The solution to the problem of the lack of diversity in TJ admissions is not necessarily a fix just to the TJ admissions process,” she said. “There has to be a fix to the pipeline that feeds into the process.”
The Education Department’s civil rights office is responsible for enforcing laws that prohibit discrimination in schools based on race, color, national origin, gender, age and disability.
The office has the power to withhold federal funds from school systems that refuse to correct civil rights violations. Now it will decide whether the allegations in Fairfax merit a full investigation.
Together, black and Latino students account for about 4 percent of the 480 students admitted to next year’s freshman class at TJ. The two groups make up 32 percent of the county’s student population.