For years, there were too many Jews at elite schools. Now it's the Asian's turn?
An Ugly Game of Race Preferences ‘I mean there has been an anti asian feel underlying some of this, hate to say it lol.’
By William McGurn, WSJ Jan. 10, 2022 6:07 pm ET An attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is suing the Fairfax County school board, speaks at a news conference in Alexandria, Va., March 10, 2021. Federal Judge Claude Hilton will hear complaints on Jan. 18 from Asian-American parents in Fairfax County, Va., who are upset with the new admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson High School. Though it has received little attention, the case draws back the curtain on how race is being used to discriminate against Asian-Americans. In so doing it also underscores what is at stake in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, an appeal of which the Supreme Court is considering whether to hear.
The allegation in both cases is the same: The schools want fewer Asian-Americans so they can make room for black, Latino and white applicants who are less qualified on the merits. Before the change, Thomas Jefferson was about 70% Asian-American. The big difference is that Thomas Jefferson is a public school and Harvard is private. But Thomas Jefferson isn’t any old high school. It is a magnet school that U.S. News & World Report has ranked the No. 1 high school in the nation. Until recently, admission was based on grades plus a competitive entrance exam. That changed for 2021-22, when the school board played down merit and eliminated tests with the goal of changing the racial composition of the student body.
The change was couched in high-sounding words like equity and inclusion. At one point, Fairfax County School Board member Karen Corbett Sanders told colleagues the messaging needed “to be we are not eliminating merit but rather reframing our understanding of merit.” But internal documents and texts—gathered by Parents Defending Education and published online—expose the ugly realties behind the pretty justifications. In an undated text sometime in the fall of 2020, School board member Stella Pekarsky told fellow member Abrar Omeish that the new proposal “will whiten our schools and kick [out] Asians. How is that achieving the goal of diversity?” Later on Ms. Omeish says, “I mean there has been an anti asian feel underlying some of this, hate to say it lol!” Ms. Perkarsky responds, “Of course it is.”
Harry Jackson is an African-American graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a retired Navy intelligence officer. He is also the father of a Thomas Jefferson student. Mr. Jackson opposed watering down admissions standards. He was elected the first black president of Thomas Jefferson’s Parent Teacher Student Association in October 2021 but resigned after a conflict with the state PTA.
“Admission changes to TJ were driven by jealously infused xenophobia and racism against the Asian community,” says Mr. Jackson. “Most of the internal deliberations focused on a tailored solution to get just enough black and Hispanic kids in to open the floodgates for rich white affluent families, the primary beneficiaries.”
Other texts make his point. Board member Rachna Sizemore Heizer said in an undated text the Fairfax County superintendent of schools, Scott Brabrand, was simply being “responsive to the times—BLM [Black Lives Matter] and a super progressive board.” On Sept. 27, 2020, the head of Thomas Jefferson admissions, Jeremy Shughart, emailed the school district’s chief operating officer and the director of the Office of Research and Strategic Improvement asking about a point system being considered. “Could you look specifically at the table for ‘Experience Factors’ and provide us a review of our current weighting and whether or not this would be enough to level the playing field for our historically underrepresented groups.”
In an Oct. 14 deposition, Mr. Shughart clarified which racial groups were underrepresented. He said “the students that were lower would have been black and Hispanic.” The additional points were called “experience factors.” These included kids who were eligible for free and reduced lunches, had English Language Learner status or came from historically underrepresented schools. The challenge was: How many extra bonus points would be enough to put these kids over the top?
In an Oct. 6 email, Mr. Brabrand was frank about what they were looking for: “Can we go back and look at points—would 200 points be a game changer.” In a hearing back in May, Judge Hilton was skeptical about the school system’s defense. “And while you—you say that the policy itself states that it is going to be race-neutral, everybody knows the policy is not race-neutral, and it’s designed to affect the racial composition of the school.”
We’re now seeing a great divvying up by race, from federal farm aid and Covid treatments to college admissions. And the practice is on the rise despite polls showing that Americans—across all racial groups—oppose race preferences. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week that he will rescind a directive banning state agencies from considering race or sex when hiring, even though his state’s voters in 2019 defeated a referendum aimed at restoring race preferences.
The question for the courts in both Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board and Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard is whether this is really the way the authors of the Constitution intended us to live. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.