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After reports that schools delayed telling students of awards, Va. widens probe

Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares is investigating claims that student merit award notifications were delayed in Fairfax County Public Schools. (Matthew Barakat/AP)
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Virginia’s top prosecutor is broadening an investigation into allegations that Fairfax County Public Schools delayed informing students of merit awards.

Attorney General Jason S. Miyares (R) last week opened a probe exploring whether the highly ranked Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology failed to notify students who won commendation from the National Merit Scholarship Corp., a group that awards the nation’s highest scorers on standardized tests.

On Monday, Miyares issued a news release saying he would expand his investigation “to the entire Fairfax County Public Schools system in light of reports and complaints that multiple schools across the county withheld awards.” He wrote in a letter to Fairfax Schools Superintendent Michelle Reid that he is aware of at least three high schools that may have failed to tell students of their commendation from the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

Miyares also tweeted a link to a WTOP story reporting that two high schools — Langley High School and Westfield High School — apologized over the weekend for failing to notify students that they had been commended by the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

Miyares wrote in the letter to Reid on Monday that if students’ race, color or national origin “was a motivating factor for Fairfax County Public Schools’ or any high school’s decision to withhold any information from a student regarding any recognition from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation … then FCPS has violated the Virginia Human Rights Act.”

Va. attorney general will probe Thomas Jefferson High admissions, merit awards

A spokeswoman for Miyares declined to comment beyond the letter and the news release Monday.

On Monday evening, Reid sent a message to families confirming that all three schools cited by Youngkin administration officials — Thomas Jefferson, Westfield and Langley — were late in sending notifications to commended students and that the failure was the subject of an internal review. Reid wrote in the message that staffers are also contacting every college to which students at these three schools applied to notify admissions officers of the award.

Reid also said that she “proactively communicated this new information” to the Office of the Attorney General over the weekend and acknowledged Miyares’s ongoing investigation, writing that Fairfax stands “ready to work with our partners at the state level.”

She added, “We are sincerely sorry for this error.”

Some parents, though, say the delay in notification — and the related inability to include the award information in application packages — harmed their students. These parents also allege racial bias because students of color are the majority of Thomas Jefferson’s student population.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who called for the initial investigation into Thomas Jefferson, said he is withholding his assessment until he knows more.

“But we have three principals who said that they’ve done this,” Youngkin (R) said Monday during a meeting with The Washington Post editorial board. “And this is not just wrong; it may be a violation of the Virginia Human Rights Act. So, I mean, this is a real issue.”

Miyares’s investigation into Thomas Jefferson also encompasses its controversial admissions system, which officials reformed in 2020 to take into account factors such as socioeconomic status. The new process eliminated a difficult entrance test and a $100 application fee and has since boosted diversity at the school, increasing the population of Black and Hispanic students at an institution that has historically trended White and Asian. Critics, though, allege that the new admissions process is biased against Asian Americans; the number of offers to Asian American students dropped by about 20 percent under the new admissions system.