As the Fairfax County School Board prepares to move to a lottery system for admission to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, fewer Loudoun students may be able to attend the magnet school starting next year.
Meanwhile, Loudoun’s School Board this week was awaiting a ruling by a Federal District Court judge on whether a challenge to its own plan to revamp admission policies for its academy programs will move forward.
Both jurisdictions are changing their admission systems in efforts to increase diversity of the programs. Asian students make up the majority of the student body at Thomas Jefferson and at Loudoun’s Academy of Science and Academy of Engineering and Technology. Loudoun’s division came under fire last year, when a complaint by the Loudoun NAACP alleging that very few Black and Hispanic students were being selected for the academy programs sparked an investigation by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
According to information provided to the School Board last week, Loudoun may only be allocated up to only 62 seats for the next freshman class at Thomas Jefferson under the new lottery system. Typically, about 100 Loudoun students per year are admitted to the program.
Fairfax also plans to drop requirements for skills testing and cognitive testing that have been criticized as barriers for some students and to raise the required grade point average from 3.0 to 3.5.
In Loudoun, among the changes that were slated to go into effect for the academies this year are reducing the number of applicant assessment tests from four to two, creating a racially and ethnically diverse selection committee, and taking steps to achieve a better geographical balance in the student selections.
That plan is under legal challenge by a group of parents who allege the changes violate their constitutional rights by moving away from an objective, merit-based selection process, were developed using faulty data, and do not promote equal opportunity. The lawsuit was filed in Loudoun Circuit Court but moved to federal court at the request of school division attorney Julia Judkins. Last week she argued a motion to dismiss parents’ request for an injunction to halt the implementation of the changes. As of Tuesday, Judge Anthony Trenga had not issued his ruling.