FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA -- Two months after local advocacy groups filed a discrimination complaint against Fairfax County Public Schools, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights launched a formal investigation into the claims Wednesday.
On July 23, the Fairfax County branch of the NAACP and the advocacy group Coalition of the Silence submitted a formal complaint alleging FCPS is perpetuating discrimination against black, Latino and disabled students through the admission process for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
"Our hope is that this investigation will shine a bright enough spotlight on these issues to solve it not just for students in Fairfax County but for students across the nation," Tina Hone, a former school board member and founder of COTS, said in a statement.
The complaint asserts FCPS has committed "clear violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
FCPS Spokesman John Torre said in an email to Patch while it's not the system's practice to comment on pending litigation, "we intend to fully cooperate" with the Office of Civil Right's investigation.
While black and Hispanic students make up about 10 percent and 22 percent of the FCPS student body, respectively, they make up 1.5 percent and 2.7 percent of the TJHSST student body, the complaint says.
Sixty-four percent of students admitted to TJHSST attend middle schools with Level 4 Advanced Academic Middle School Centers. Most of the centers have limited diversity, carrying minority populations that don't reflect the county's demographic makeup, the complaint says.
"In essence, Fairfax County operates a separate and unequal 'sub' school system within its overarching taxpayer-funded, public school system," the complaint reads. "That separate and unequal subsystem is comprised of a network of level 4 advanced academic centers where Black and Latino students are grossly underrepresented."
At a July 19 work session, Fairfax County's school board discussed both the lack of diversity and the declining math scores at the Governor's School for science and technology in recent years, and charged FCPS staff to begin researching how to improve in both areas.
This week, staff returned to a board work session with four recommendations: maintain the admissions weighting system; increase the pipeline of students who apply by implementing Advanced Academics Program Recommendations from the AAP center at every middle school and also from the elementary-level center in each pyramid; re-evaluate math instruction and curriculum across the system; and require those students in this year's admissions process to complete the student information sheet in a "controlled setting."
The board has not made any formal votes on those recommendations, but at the work session decided to keep the current weighting system, at least temporarily and follow the recommendations for the student information sheet, Torre said.
The board asked Superintendent Jack Dale to return a more detailed plan on AAP centers -- and how to assess math issues -- by December, Torre said.
The school system will be required to cooperate with OCR or risk losing federal funding.
This article has been updated with board recommendations.
For more on TJ:
Fairfax School Board Explores Changes to Thomas Jefferson Admissions
Which Middle School Sends the Most Students to TJHSST?
FCPS Releases Admission Statistics for Thomas Jefferson High's Class of 2016
Q&A with Thomas Jefferson High School Admissions Director Tanisha Holland
Thomas Jefferson High School Application Process: Lengthy and Complex
Thomas Jefferson High School Admissions Increasingly Selective