Virginia school chief denies National Merit Awards were withheld due to ‘equity’

Virginia school chief denies National Merit Awards were withheld due to ‘equity’ amid claims 17 high schools delayed handing out accolades to avoid hurting other students’ feelings

  • Dr. Michelle Reid said Virginia’s schools celebrated students unique abilities
  • She said ‘human error’ was to blame for merit awards not reaching students
  • Virginia’s Governor said schools had ‘maniacal focus’ on equal student outcomes

One of Virginia‘s top education officials denied accusations that at least 17 schools under her jurisdiction withheld handing out merit awards to protect the feelings of students who didn’t receive them.

In her first interview since the scandal broke, Fairfax County Schools superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid said her department held a third-party investigation into the situation and insisted that the delays were the result of ‘human error.’

She added that any talk of ‘equal outcomes’ for Virginia students referred only to her schools’ intentions to help each student ‘achieve their unique potential.’

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has said the schools denied students a ‘golden ticket’ for college admissions by delivering news of merit awards too late for kids to include them in their early decision applications. 

Fairfax County public schools superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid denied allegations awards were intentionally withheld

Fairfax County public schools superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid denied allegations awards were intentionally withheld

The decision by brass at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, Virginia, was reportedly part of a new school strategy meant to provide 'equal outcomes for every student, without exceptions'

The decision by brass at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, Virginia, was reportedly part of a new school strategy meant to provide ‘equal outcomes for every student, without exceptions’

Reid characterized Youngkin’s golden ticket comparison as being an ‘inaccurate’ assessment of the weight the awards carry.

She also said the perception from Youngkin and some parents that the schools were bent on making sure all students received ‘equal outcomes’ – which Youngkin called ‘maniacal’ – was also not accurate. 

‘What I mean when I talk about equal outcomes is the opportunity for each and every student to achieve their unique potential,’ Rede told WFMZ.

‘We celebrate each and every one of our students’ unique contributions and achievements, and there is absolutely no division-wide effort to withhold recognition or not to honor hard work and achievement.’

The prospective guidance was proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin in a televised interview aired Wednesday, amid public outcry over 17 schools' decision to delay notifying students

The prospective guidance was proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin in a televised interview aired Wednesday, amid public outcry over 17 schools’ decision to delay notifying students

Reid said her district's schools tried to promote the unique abilities of each of its students

Reid said her district’s schools tried to promote the unique abilities of each of its students

The allegations first surfaced when parents at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology – the top rated high school in the country – said administrators confided in them that the awards had been intentionally withheld to avoid hurting students feelings.

Since then, parents at 17 schools across Virginia – predominantly in Fairfax County – have reported having news of merit awards withheld. 

Virginia attorney general Jason Miyares has launched an investigation into the allegations, and Governor Youngkin has proposed a law that would bar schools from withholding information from students.

Reid said Fairfax had a third-party conduct its own investigation.

‘We did initiate a third-party external review into the situation,’ she said, noting the investigation found ‘human error’ was to blame.

She also said the schools were working to notify any colleges of any students awards that weren’t noted on their applications.

‘We committed to contacting all the colleges and universities of the early action, early decision schools that otherwise our commended scholars might not have had that information to notify,’ she said.

Principal Ann Bonitatibus

Director of Student Services Brandon Kosatka

 Principal Ann Bonitatibus (left) and Director of Student Services Brandon Kosatka (right)

Loudoun County Public Schools Acting Superintendent Daniel Smith

Michelle Reid, Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent

Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent LaTanya D. McDade

Among those embroiled in the scandal are superintendents (L-R) Daniel Smith, of Loudon County, Michelle Reid, of Fairfax County, and LaTanya McDade, of Prince William County

Which Virginia schools are accused of failing to inform ‘commended pupils’ of their awards? 

Fairfax County:

1. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology 

2. Westfield High School

3. Langley High School

4. Annandale High school

5. Edison High School

6. Lewis High School

7. West Potomac High School

8. Marshall High School 

Loudoun County: 

9. Freedom High School

10. Loudoun County High School

11. Potomac Falls High School –

12. Unnamed High School in Loudoun County

Prince William County:

13. Battlefield High School

14. Colgan High School

15. Forest Park High School

16. Patriot High School

 Stafford County

17. Mountain View High School 

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Virginia mom and author Asra Nomani, whose son’s merit scholarship was withheld for an astounding two years, blew the whistle on school’s actions last month, and it has since been learned that officials in other schools did the same.

Nomani was seen at a protest procession outside the school earlier this month.

She and with dozens of others demanded that action be taken against officials who decided to keep parents and students in the dark.

‘Let it be known that we are not for fake meetings – we are for real action,’ Nomani said, visibly irate over the school’s decision to keep the awards under wraps.

Nomani was the first to break the story on the allegations against Fairfax County – and now Loudon, Prince William, and Stafford counties.

Thomas Jefforson Director of Student Services Brandon Kosatka admitted to her in November that the approach to withholding students’ academic honors was intentional.

Nomani said the director owned up to the allegations when she told him about it by phone asking why her son had not received a letter until that point.

The principal was apparently not available for the query, leaving Kosatka to field it.  

When questioned, Kosatka explained the school’s side.

He said staffers had wanted to hand the letters out ‘discreetly’ to avoid hurting the feelings of students who failed to garner the distinction.

‘There’s a lot of kids who didn’t get either award, and we didn’t want them to feel bad about it,’ Nomanic qupted Kosatka as saying.

Fairfax County school system officials, meanwhile, could not verify that conversation took place.

Asra Nomani, one of the parents who was part of the effort unearthing these allegations against the Fairfax County Public School system, was one of several mom to gather at the school Friday demanding 'action' be taken against the principal and other officials responsible

Asra Nomani, one of the parents who was part of the effort unearthing these allegations against the Fairfax County Public School system, was one of several moms seen protesting the decision by schools in Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William counties meant to pursue ‘equity’

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares says at least 13 high schools failed to let students know they won merit awards. The AG has opened an investigation into the issue following allegations Asian American students were targeted to ensure 'equal outcomes'

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares says at least 13 high schools failed to let students know they won merit awards. The AG has opened an investigation into the issue following allegations Asian American students were targeted to ensure ‘equal outcomes’ 

Announcing the probe last week, Miyares condemned the schools’ actions as the state launched an investigation over alleged Anti-Asian bigotry.

Miyares told Fox Business Tuesday that in Fairfax, the district paid an equity consultant $450,000 to ensure ‘equal outcomes no matter what, even if it means treating some students purposefully unequally.’

He added: ‘You hear the word equity all the time. Equity without excellence is actually emptiness. It doesn’t really help the student at all. It actually divides us.’

The National Merit awards are only given to 50,000 of 1.5million high schoolers who score well on the PSATS – and they can help students compete for scholarships, honors accolades, and college admissions.

The state’s investigation is looking into the administration’s decisions to withhold the National Merit Scholarship honors from students and if it violates the Virginia Human Rights Act.

Families are furious they were not informed their children had won awards, with many protesting the schools' decision to keep it quiet

Families are furious they were not informed their children had won awards, with many protesting the schools’ decision to keep it quiet

Youngkin spoke out against the schools’ allegedly policies in an interview last week.

‘There clearly is a real suggestion that their civil rights have been violated. And we need to understand what’s at the heart of this,’ Youngkin, 56, told Fox News’ American Reports Wednesday, before announcing the new bill.

‘There’s clearly been an effort to bring down the standards for our students in Virginia to stop celebrating excellence. And this is counter to everything we believe.’

Youngking, a vocal opponent of policies limiting parents’ rights in schools, slammed officials at Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince Williams counties for secretly implementing the strategy unbeknownst to parents – something the governor slated as un-American.

‘This nation was built on the idea of building a better future, of striving and achieving.

‘And here we have what appears to be three of three large school districts in Virginia who have been systematically withholding information about excellence.

‘This is so counter to everything that we believe.’

The governor proceeded to criticize what he called a ‘trifecta’ of problems currently affecting schools his home state, who he accused of succumbing to woke progressives with maneuvers that limit parent’s rights to make decisions for their children.

In that regard, Youngkin said school officials ‘have lowered their expectations.’

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