Update Re: Challenges to School Integration in Virginia

Via NCSD’s April 2022 newsletter.

“The Board is aware of no decision of any appellate court — and the Coalition has cited none — holding that public education authorities violate the Equal Protection Clause by adopting race-neutral student admissions criteria in order to promote increased socioeconomic and racial diversity.”

–Donald Verrilli, Jr.
Representing the Fairfax County School Board attorney(and former U.S. Solicitor General) in response to an emergency request from the Coalition for TJ et al to ask the Supreme Court to put a stay on the 4th Circuit’s ruling

“Every student has a right to a fair shot at receiving an excellent education, regardless of their income, where they grew up, or their racial and ethnic background. But for well over a decade, the TJ admission process failed to identify all Black, Latino, and underserved Asian American students with the aptitude to excel. It would have been a serious mistake — and, as the court’s order notes, contrary to Supreme Court precedent — to allow this fairer system to be enjoined.”

Statement by NAACP Legal Defense Fund,
Asian Americans Advancing Justice,
and Latino Justice PRLDEF in response to 4th Circuit ruling

On April 25th, the Supreme Court rejected a request for emergency relief from the Coalition for TJ to stop Thomas Jefferson High School administrators from using a new admissions policy for TJ’s Class of 2026. The request had been joined by Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares and Republican attorneys general from 15 states.


As described in the New York Times, the most well-known case currently challenging admissions changes at competitive schools is Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board. The plaintiffs in the case claim that non-race-based criteria (such as reducing reliance on test scores) at Thomas Jefferson High School, intended to achieve greater racial diversity in the student body, are subject to strict scrutiny under the 14th Amendment because of a foreseeable reduction in the percentage of students in one or more racial/ethnic groups (in this case, Asian-American students).

Previously, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia agreed with the plaintiffs, finding that the Fairfax County School Board acted with discriminatory intent in its efforts to increase the representation of Black and Latino students at Thomas Jefferson. As a result, the judge enjoined school administrators from using the policy. On appeal, a Fourth Circuit panel granted a stay of the ruling, allowing implementation of the new admissions policy to go forward.

Why Does It Matter?

The original decision from the Eastern District of Virginia federal court is very troubling since the school district was following the Supreme Court’s 2007 majority opinion from the Parents Involved case in its efforts to increase racial diversity at the school (for example, allocating a significant number of seats to the highest-ranking students at each feeder middle school in the region and eliminating test scores as the deciding factor in awarding seats to the remaining applicants).

The Supreme Court’s refusal to stop the enactment of the policy while this case is under appeal is promising. However, the Supreme Court might eventually hear the case and issue a new standard for how public schools go about achieving racial and socioeconomic diversity. The Supreme Court is preparing to consider challenges to the holistic affirmative action programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A decision in those cases, though governed by a different set of legal precedents, could have an effect on diversity efforts in K-12 schools.

Related News:

  • Divided Supreme Court Allows Selective High School’s Diversity Policy by Greg Stohr (Bloomberg, April 25) – “’This court has long recognized that seeking to improve diversity — including geographic, socioeconomic, and racial diversity — is not the same as pursuing racial balancing, and that the former goal may be pursued through race-neutral methods,’ the school board argued.”

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