FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (7News) — Seven high schools in Fairfax County have now admitted they didn’t tell students of their prestigious national merit recognition in time for important college scholarship and admissions deadlines.
The high schools include Annandale High School, West Potomac High School, John R. Lewis High School, Edison High School, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Westfield High School, and Langley High School.
These high schools account for 25% of the high schools in Fairfax County.
On Friday, 7News was the first to report that four additional Fairfax County high schools didn’t notify students of their national merit recognition.
According to the National Merit Scholarship program’s website, high schoolers must take the PSAT to initially screen for the scholarship. Program recognition and awards include commended students, semifinalists, finalists, and the winners of the National Merit $2500 scholarships. There are also corporate-sponsored and college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards and other special scholarships.
In this case, Fairfax County Public Schools explained the error had to do with commended students. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation explains those students can’t continue in the competition for National Merit Scholarships but some can compete for special scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.
When it comes to impacting college applications and including this recognition in that process for admission or potential other scholarships, the district said in a statement counselors sent emails and made follow-up calls to the colleges where these students had applied and informed them once they were aware of the mistake.
“It impacts their ability to apply to college for scholarships, and in this idea of a golden ticket as it is called was withheld from them and it seems to have been withheld from them for the purpose of not wanting to make people feel bad who didn’t achieve it. And all of a sudden, we see it spreading around to the rest of Fairfax County,” Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin told 7News WJLA-TV in a sit down interview outside of his State Capitol Office in Richmond.
Youngkin said what started off as allegations at one of the most prominent schools in Virginia has revealed a systematic problem.
In a 7News interview, Youngkin blasted Fairfax County’s superintendent for spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on equity consultants.
“The reality is that we have a superintendent in Fairfax schools who has explicitly stated that her top objective is equal outcomes for all students, regardless of the price,” said Youngkin. “Now we know the price includes paying $450,000 to a liberal consultant to come in and teach the administrators in Fairfax County how to do this. What it appears happened is that principals in schools decided that they were going to systematically withhold accolades and a path to college admission and scholarships from high-performing students.”
Fairfax County Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid has met face-to-face with parents to listen to their concerns at Thomas Jefferson, Westfield, and Langley high schools.
“In each case, it’s my understanding principals sign certificates and pass those to staff who distribute them,” Reid told parents last week.
Reid said in an email to the community that as FCPS continues its own review, she is committed to being transparent with the key findings.
“Only three percent of high school seniors get recognized. It’s a huge issue,” Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares told 7News WJLA-TV in a one-on-one interview in Richmond.
As the Attorney General’s investigations continue this week, Miyares tells 7News what is transparent about FCPS’s failures are the impacts on students and their families.
“We actually know of some schools that give a full four-year scholarship if you are one of those who get recognized a national merit award commendation,” he said.
“How you pay for college can be as stressful as getting into college,” Miyares told 7News. “The idea that sometimes these are $90,000-100,000 plus benefits of scholarships that were never going to be told that these students are eligible to apply for. That’s wrong.”
Last week, the acting Superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools confirmed at least three high schools didn’t notify students of their national merit recognition.
“There’s been a lot of federal money and state money lavished on these school districts over the last few years, and like you said, half a million dollars for a consulting firm to come in to do strategic planning for Fairfax County Public Schools,” 7News Reporter Nick Minock told Governor Youngkin in a sitidown interview. “They [Fairfax County Public Schools] also spent $20,000 for one hour for an author to speak to teachers over Zoom and in Loudoun County, Equity Collaborative has been the firm that school district has hired. Do you think they’re misusing public funds?”
“I think this is part of our investigation,” Youngkin answered. “They have a maniacal focus on equal outcomes for all students at all costs. And at the heart of the American dream, is excelling, is advancing, is stretching and recognizing that we have students that have different capabilities. Some students have the ability to perform at one level, others need more help, and we have to allow students to run as fast as they can to dream the biggest dreams they can possibly dream and then go get them.”
Youngkin also told 7News some of his education policy priorities for the legislative session.
“We can raise the ceiling and the floor in Virginia,” Youngkin added. “And that’s why we’re also so focused on moving forward with extending reading coaches through the fifth grade, extending math coaches into schools that have really performed the poorest.”
Youngkin argues standards of learning in Virginia were lowered under previous governors and that has impacted educational outcomes.
“And then coupled with the learning loss from COVID, Virginia’s kids performed worse in the nation and learning loss in fourth-grade reading and tied for worse in fourth-grade math,” said Youngkin. “This overarching effort for equal outcomes is hurting Virginia’s children and it’s hurting, even worse, the children that they aspire to help – children in the Black community and children in the Hispanic community and children who are in the socio-economically challenged community and Virginia’s kids with disabilities. They have in fact suffered even more.”
“And so we’ve got to turn this around. That’s what we’re doing in education policy in Virginia,” added Youngkin. “We funded through the largest education bill ever in Virginia history, raising teacher salaries, funding, equipment, funding infrastructure, but also launching lab schools. We have been driving curriculum to be the best curriculum in the nation so that we will teach all of our history, the good and the bad, we want it to be the best. This is a moment where we have to recognize that educating our children so that they are equipped to take on not just the challenges, but to take on confidently the pursuit of their dreams is at the heart of education and equal outcomes for all students at any cost is a cost too much for Virginia.”
However, some Virginia Democrats have criticized the Attorney General’s investigation that Youngkin requested.
State Senator Scott Surovell is calling the Attorney General’s probe a “fake investigation” adding “Arlington, Alexandria and Prince William are next!”
House Minority Leader Don Scott said the Attorney General is constructing a “fake controversy that in no way impact educational outcomes in schools.”
Youngkin reacted to the Democrats’ criticism.
“That’s the exact same thing they said last year when we called for an investigation in Loudoun County around the sexual assault of young women and what appeared to be the cover-up of that and after a grand jury found that in fact, it had been a cover-up,” said Youngkin. “And then officials were indicted and subsequently fired. The reality of where we stand in the in the light of truth, versus political posturing, comes full circle. And here we are again.”