Letter: Beyond Schools’ And TJ’s Control

— To the Editor:

I'm writing in response to the op-ed regarding the lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson High School. This lawsuit is deeply flawed and is not a serious attempt to address the socioeconomic causes of inequality.

You come close to acknowledging this in the editorial. You write that "The disparities and lack of diversity at Northern Virginia's stellar magnet school, ranked the top high school in the nation, is a symptom of a much more pervasive problem in Fairfax County." You point out that "TJ has made a variety of attempts to address the exclusive nature of admissions," and that "The problem runs much deeper than freshman admission to Thomas Jefferson."

Then why not come out and say this lawsuit is a mistake? It's an attempt to scapegoat what by all accounts is an excellent educational facility for the inequities of life.

Using population numbers to make a case for discrimination is also intellectually dishonest. Most people know that just because A happened before B, that doesn't mean that A caused B. There is no question that by these numbers Black students (1.4%) and Latino students (3.8%) are underrepresented at Thomas Jefferson, based on overall school population. As a reader of yours has already pointed out, White students (26.2%) are also underrepresented, while Asian students are vastly overrepresented (64%).

What should we do about this? Expel enough Asian students to bring the numbers in line? Accept more White, Black and Latino students, whether they meet the high admission qualifications or not?

Absurd of course, but that's the danger of identifying students as representatives of ethnic groups rather than as individuals. And the danger of focusing on outcomes, not inputs.

My wife and I have no children. We have no first hand experience of the staff at Thomas Jefferson, though a neighbor's son went there and did well. However, I'm willing to bet that the staff there works very hard to avoid discriminating against any student, and would very much like to admit more disadvantaged students if they could. This suit attempts to make them (and the broader school system) responsible for socioeconomic factors totally beyond their control.

Perhaps the goal of this lawsuit is publicity, to bring more attention to the topic of educational inequality. It may do that, but I think not the right kind of attention for the reasons mentioned above. Plus, lawsuits usually harden positions and sow discord, not accommodation.

We enjoy reading the Gazette and appreciate the recurring focus on those less fortunate in our area. That topic needs to be addressed, as does improving the prospects of every student in Fairfax County. But all students would be better served by more honesty in this debate, and perhaps more realism regarding how completely the public school system can counterbalance economic disparities.

Christopher Parente

Collingwood Springs