December 22, 2022, 4:25 PM
This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.
The Fairfax County public school system is acknowledging a problem after a Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology parent accused school administrators of deliberately withholding National Merit commendations.
The allegations first appeared in the conservative publication City Journal, where an article written by local schools activist Asra Nomani claims that Thomas Jefferson’s principal and director of student services had intentionally withheld notification of National Merit commendations from students who had qualified. The article claims the withholding is part of a deliberate “war on merit” campaign.
National Merit awards are students who score among the top roughly 50,000 students in the nation on the PSAT. Of those 50,000 recipients, only about 16,000 are considered semi-finalists who can go on to compete for scholarships through the program. The other roughly 34,000 are considered “Commended Students” as their scores were not high enough to qualify as semi-finalists. Still, many college admissions sites recommend listing the commendation on college applications.
According to the article, the school failed to properly notify students and their parents of the commendations, though semifinalists were notified by the school and featured in a list published each September by Fairfax County Public Schools. As one of 18 governor’s schools in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson accepts high school students from Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties, as well as the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, but is operated by Fairfax County Public Schools.
Commended students at Thomas Jefferson, the article said, were thus unable to include the commendation on college applications.
On Thursday, an FCPS spokesperson told InsideNoVa that the division was working to remedy the situation.
“FCPS understands the hard work and dedication of each and every student who competes for college acceptance and scholarship opportunities. Once the issue regarding the fall 2022 notifications was realized, counselors sent emails and made follow-up calls to each college where these students had applied and informed them of the National Merit Scholarship Commendations,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We are continuing to look into this matter and will take any necessary steps to ensure consistency in appropriate and timely notification of National Merit recognitions going forward.”
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