Youngkin calls for investigation into Virginia high school after allegations

(The Center Square) – Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is calling for an investigation into the leadership of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology following recent allegations school administrators withheld notifications of National Merit awards from students and families.

Youngkin wants Attorney General Jason Miyares to investigate if Thomas Jefferson High School Administrators held back information about National Merit awards, which are determined by PSAT scores, from students and parents until after early-admission application deadlines for some colleges had passed.

In a Tuesday letter to the attorney general, Youngkin said he “believe[s] this failure may have caused material harm to those students and their parents, and that this failure may have violated the Virginia Human Rights Act.”

“We need to get to the bottom of what appears to be an egregious, deliberate attempt to disadvantage high-performing students at one of the best schools in the country,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Parents and students deserve answers and Attorney General Miyares will initiate a full investigation.”

Allegations against Thomas Jefferson school leadership first appeared last month in an article published in City Journal. The article alleges school officials withheld  information about National Merit recognition for years and accuses administrators of distributing National Merit commendations in 2022 after the early application deadline for some colleges had passed.

The National Merit awards recognize the top 50,000 students with the highest score on the PSAT. Of those 50,000 students, 16,000 are notified they qualify as semifinalists and roughly 34,000 are designated as commended students.

While commended students do not continue in the competition for National Merit Scholarships, students can include the award on their college applications.

According to the article published in City Journal, National Merit sent a letter to Thomas Jefferson High School Principal Ann Bonitatibus in September alerting her 240 students were recognized as commended Students or semifinalists. Bonitatibus received the letter in mid-October, but students did not receive the awards until Nov. 14, the article alleges.

Some students, however, who qualified as National Merit semifinalists were notified of the award through an announcement and list of students published by Fairfax County Public Schools in September. The City Journal article claims students at Thomas Jefferson recognized as commended students in 2022 received notification in November.

Fairfax County Public Schools did not respond to The Center Square’s request for comment. However, an FCPS spokesperson told InsideNoVa last month that once the issue regarding the National Merit 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.”

“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,” the spokesperson told InsideNoVa in a statement.