Virginia School Board Members Acknowledged Anti-Asian Bias in Admissions, Texts Show

Fairfax County schools came under fire for effort to boost black and Hispanic enrollment

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January 14, 2022

Two Virginia school board members admitted that an "underlying" sense of anti-Asian sentiment influenced admissions practices meant to boost black and Hispanic enrollment at one of the nation's top high schools.

In a text conversation revealed as part of a federal lawsuit, Fairfax County Public School board members Abrar Omeish and Stella Pekarsky questioned the efficacy of the district's "equitable" admissions practices for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Omeish and Pekarsky said that district officials knew the changes would reduce the number of Asian Americans admitted to Thomas Jefferson.

"I mean there has been an anti asian feel underlying some of this, hate to say it lol," Omeish texted Pekarsky in the fall of 2020. "They're discriminated against in this process too."

At another point in the conversation, Pekarsky said the policies will "whiten our schools and kick our [sic] Asians."

"How is that achieving the goals of diversity?" Pekarsky asked.

Thomas Jefferson roiled parents in October 2020 when the school ditched its entrance exam in favor of an admissions system built on racial quotas. The new policies limited the amount of Asian-American students that each of the district's middle schools could send to the high school. Parents said the policy targeted Asian-American students, as the three schools known for feeding students to Thomas Jefferson have primarily Asian-American populations. Coalition for TJ, a parent group, in March sued the district over the policies.

The texts, which the group Parents Defending Education released this week, could play an important role in Coalition for TJ's case against the district, which a federal court will hear Tuesday. This is the second lawsuit the district faces over allegations of anti-Asian discrimination. A group of 17 families—many of whom are Asian American—filed suit against the district in November 2020.

Under the racially driven admissions policy, Thomas Jefferson admitted nearly 16-percent fewer Asian students and 43-percent more white students.

Harry Jackson, the father of a black student at Thomas Jefferson, told the Washington Free Beacon that the district's policies are a "targeted hit" on Asian Americans under the "guise" of "diversity."

"It was absolutely motivated by anti-Asian racism," Jackson said, noting that the school board members "were willing to sacrifice the community they said they would help."

Jackson resigned as president of Thomas Jefferson's Parent Teacher Student Association in November following months of controversy surrounding the district's "antiracist" push. He was the first black man to hold that position.

While Omeish admonished anti-Asian bigotry in private text messages, the school board member last year found herself in hot water after she called Israel an "apartheid" state in two social media posts. Omeish said the Jewish state "kills Palestinians" and "desecrates the Holy Land." Open FCPS, a parent group formed at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, campaigned last year to recall Omeish.

Critics say Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent Scott Brabrand used Virginia governor Ralph Northam's (D.) call for schools to produce "diversity reports" to force "a gutting" of Thomas Jefferson's entrance practices. Brabrand announced last summer that he will not be renewing his contract with Fairfax public schools after it expires in July.

Anti-Asian discrimination has become a problem in higher education as well. Under former president Donald Trump, the Justice Department sued Yale University over alleged anti-Asian bias in its admissions process. The Biden administration dropped the case last year. The Supreme Court is expected to hear a case that accuses Harvard of anti-Asian admissions bias.