U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Hear Case On K-12 Admissions Policy

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Feb 28, 2024

The Supreme Court denied certiorari in Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board, a case involving public high school admissions policies.  Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) is a highly ranked magnet school in Alexandria, Virginia.  In 2020, TJ altered their admission criteria in order to diversify the student body dominated by Asian-Americans from a handful of affluent neighborhoods.

The new admissions system removed the application fee and allocated most slots proportionally among the school district’s middle schools, with applicants given a holistic evaluation based on GPA, the student “portrait sheet” (i.e., description of applicant’s skills), a problem-solving essay, and four “Experience Factors” (i.e., special education status, eligibility for free or reduced-price meals, status as an English-language learner, and attendance at a historically underrepresented public middle school).

The Coalition for TJ, an advocacy organization of Fairfax County public school parents, filed suit alleging that the new admissions policy ran afoul of the Equal Protection Clause.  The Coalition argued that, although the policy was facially race-neutral, the policy was adopted with a racially discriminatory purpose in that it intended to reduce the percentage of Asian-American students who enrolled at TJ and intended for the policy to act as a proxy in order to racially balance TJ.

In May 2023, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found no violation to the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because Asian-Americans produced the highest admissions “success rate” of any group under the new admissions policy, with Asian-American students accounting for 48.59% of the applications and 54.36% of the admission offers.  The Court of Appeals also ruled that there was no discriminatory intent under the new policy.  TJ was not motivated by disadvantaging Asian-American students and the policy itself was not only race-neutral, it was fully race-blind.  Each applicant’s name, race, ethnicity, and sex were excluded from the applications.

The Supreme Court’s decision declining to hear this case means that TJ can continue with their current admissions policy.

Justice Alito and Justice Thomas dissented from the Supreme Court’s decision, warning that TJ’s admissions model creates a blueprint for schools to evade the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down affirmative action in college admissions.

Coal. for TJ v. Fairfax Cnty. Sch. Bd. (2024) ___U.S.___ [___L.Ed.2d___].

Note: LCW covered the Fourth Circuit’s decision in the June edition of Private Education Matters.

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