Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ), a selective STEM magnet school with a national reputation for excellence, has what the school board in suburban Fairfax County, Va., considers a problem: Too many Asian American students excel on the admission test. The current TJ student body is 73 percent Asian American, 17.7 percent White, 3.3 percent Hispanic or Latino, 1 percent Black and 6 percent other. So, the board has decided to eliminate the test. Admissions will be based on a “holistic” assessment of applicants, meaning whatever admissions officials want it to mean.
And there will be limits on the number of admissions from particular middle schools. The four that usually produce a majority of TJ admissions have higher Asian American populations than most other middle schools. A complaint by some TJ parents says: “By severely limiting the number of students who can be accepted at TJ from [these four] middle schools … future TJ classes will have a radically different racial composition, by design.”
In Boston and New York, similar measures with identical motivations are attacking the selectivity of elite public high schools. In both cities, as in Fairfax County, parent groups, with large Asian American participation, are suing. Last week, a federal district judge, rejecting the Fairfax County School Board’s request for dismissal of the racial discrimination lawsuit, said: “Everybody knows the policy is not race neutral, and that it’s designed to affect the racial composition of the school.”
Everybody knows because county officials have said that the purpose is to engineer a student body in which racial and ethnic groups are “proportional” to their shares of the county’s population. This means (see paragraph two, above) most beneficiaries will be White: The county is 60 percent White, 20 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, 17 percent Hispanic and 10 percent Black.
The TJ parents’ complaint notes that in 2018, a retired county middle school teacher ominously told Virginia’s General Assembly that Asian American parents are “ravenous” for opportunities for their children. In 2020, a member of the state legislature spoke of, but did not specify, “unethical ways” Asian American parents “push their kids into [TJ].” Presumably, they push their children to do well on standardized tests. At a 2020 town hall meeting, Fairfax County’s schools superintendent stigmatized TJ’s student body majority by complaining that Asian American parents spend “thousands upon thousands” on test preparation. Virginia’s secretary of education later denounced such studying as comparable to “performance enhancement drugs” in sports: cheating.
In another meeting, TJ’s principal regretted that the school is not “more demographically representative of the region” and vowed to “advance the representative demographics.” A school board member spoke of the “culture” of Virginia’s selective schools being “not as healthy” as it should be. A less delicate member called TJ’s majority Asian American culture “toxic.” There were eight other disparagements of TJ’s culture — and implicitly of Asian Americans.
The school principal, who is fluent in the flowery, obfuscating argot resorted to when recommending racial spoils systems, says TJ “is a rich tapestry of heritages” but does not “reflect” the county’s “racial composition.” As the district judge said in allowing the parents’ suit against the county to proceed, “You can say all sorts of beautiful things while you’re doing others.” Many have noted that the use, by TJ and others, of “holistic” metrics to limit Asian American admissions and fine-tune a school’s “culture” resembles the use of geographic preferences and “character” considerations employed by Ivy League universities to restrict Jews, before being recycled to restrict Asian Americans.
This is just one school system in one U.S. county, but it reflects today’s saturation of national life with government-endorsed and government-enforced racial discrimination, which now affects allocations of vaccines, government loans and much else. This is the result of replacing the ideal of equality — equal treatment — with “equity,” meaning government-engineered racial outcomes.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court has held that a facially neutral state action violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws when the action is enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose. Fairfax County School Board officials have announced such a purpose. We shall see them in court, where their racist policies, and perhaps other policies that are multiplying in the name of “equity,” have a rendezvous with the Constitution.