Superintendent Who Eliminated Entrance Exam at Nation's Top High School To Resign

Number of Asian students plummeted at Thomas Jefferson after district gutted merit-based admissions

Thomas Jefferson High School / Google Maps
July 16, 2021

The Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent who eliminated the entrance exam at the nation’s top high school announced he will leave his post next year.

Scott Brabrand will not renew his contract with Fairfax, Va., public schools after it expires in July 2022, according to a Thursday district news release. Brabrand touted his top accomplishments in the announcement, including "embedding an equity focus" and "broadening access" to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. The latter effort spurred two groups of parents to sue the district for anti-Asian discrimination. 

Brabrand’s resignation follows more than a year of controversy between factions of parents and district leaders, which began last spring after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. In October, the district approved Brabrand's proposal to dismantle the merit-based admissions process for Thomas Jefferson—often ranked as the nation’s top high school—as part of the district’s focus on "equity."

"We have heard from many members of the TJ community—current and former—who have raised concerns about diversity at the school," Brabrand said in a statement at the time. "TJ must reflect the diversity, equity, and inclusiveness that is core to the mission and values of Fairfax County Public Schools." 

In December, the district adopted a quota system to boost black and Hispanic enrollment. The updated admissions process capped the number of students that each of Fairfax’s middle schools could send to Thomas Jefferson. The three middle schools known for feeding students to Thomas Jefferson have largely Asian-American populations, and as a result, the updated admissions process cut the number of Asian students admitted to the following year’s freshman class by 16 percent. The number of white students admitted rose by 43 percent. 

Critics claim Brabrand misrepresented a statewide "diversity report" mandate approved by Gov. Ralph Northam (D., Va.) to "[force] a gutting of TJ admissions." In an October meeting, Brabrand said the death of George Floyd in May 2020 compelled him to "relook at equity in everything that we do"—including admissions practices. 

Seventeen families, most of them Asian-American, filed suit against the district in November 2020. The Coalition for TJ, a nonpartisan parent group that rejects Brabrand’s equity push, filed a separate lawsuit against the district in March. 

Brabrand’s equity crusade didn’t stop at the high school. In an email to parents in March, Brabrand announced that the district would create "a new Anti-Racism, Anti-Bias Education Curriculum Policy." Fairfax County Public Schools could shell out up to $280,000 to the Leadership Academy, a pricy equity consultant, for equity training sessions, according to a March contract obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. 

Alleigh Marré, president of the Free to Learn Coalition, told the Free Beacon that Brabrand’s resignation shows the effectiveness of organized parent groups. 

"Brabrand’s resignation shows us that various parent groups who have been very active in Fairfax County have had an impact," Marré said. "Those parents have been active and loud and are being heard." 

Brabrand, who has served as superintendent since 2017, said he will begin seeking his replacement immediately. His contract expires in July 2022.