Parents at Langley High School voice concerns over withheld merit awards

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid heard from parents at Langley High School Tuesday night. 

The school is now one of three in Fairfax County confirmed to have delayed notifying students of their National Merit Scholarship recognitions. Thomas Jefferson and Westfield High Schools also admitted to the same mistake. 

According to a letter from the principal, sent to school families on Jan. 7, administrators learned the students who received the Commended Students recognition were not notified by the school in a timely manner. Families were told late in the evening on January 6 about their awards. 

Most high school seniors had to have college applications submitted by Nov. 1 if not earlier. 

READ MORE: Top-ranked Virginia high school accused of depriving students of merit awards

Angela Sitilides' son is a senior at Langley High and is a Commended Student but was notified too late to put it on his college applications. 

"You have to find every way to distinguish yourself and a national merit scholar award would have been nice to put on there," Sitildes said. 

Superintendent Reid told parents she was taking responsibility, would be transparent, and that the district would call colleges and universities where kids applied to tell them about the mistake. 

Parents at the meeting questioned if giving the awards out late was intentionally done by administrators or an accident. 

"We’re all supposed to believe that three Fairfax schools had the exact same screw-up where all the different principals did their part, but the staff messed up and didn't give that to the students?" one mom said. 

A Richmond law firm is conducting an independent review looking to find exactly what happened and how it took place. The Virginia attorney general is also investigating all Fairfax County Public Schools. 

"The review is not complete and as we learn more we will share that with you, but there are times where the truth is difficult to believe and this may be one of those times," Superintendent Reid explained. 

Sitilides says she doesn't know if not having the National Merit Recognition will impact her son's college acceptances, but wishes they would have at least made the decision for themselves. 

"It's again feeling like administrators are making decisions for us and downplaying the achievements of our children, and it's upsetting," she said.

Loudoun County Public Schools officials released the following statement regarding the National Merit recognitions:

Our school division has received questions regarding whether Loudoun County Public Schools students were notified about National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) commendations. The LCPS Office of Student Mental Health Services has conducted a review of all 17 LCPS high school notification processes for NMSC Semifinalists and Commended Students.

It is important to note that there is more than one level of NMSC award. National Merit Finalists have not yet been announced by NMSC, therefore LCPS has no names or notifications about this level of award at this stage of NMSC process. LCPS will, however, verify the timeliness of notification processes, support and celebrations of any finalists.

School principals receive notification in September from NMSC of students named as Semifinalists. NMSC notifies students through the email address used to register for the PSAT. School counselors notify and support semifinalists in meeting the October 5 deadline for NMSC finalists. All LCPS National Merit Semifinalists were notified of their awards by LCPS and the appropriate procedures were implemented to assist those students in their scholarship applications. National Merit Semifinalists were celebrated in an LCPS news story on September 16, 2022, and were recognized at the September 27, 2022, School Board meeting.

National Merit Letters of Commendation is another level of acknowledgment for academic promise. According to the NMSC website, "Commended Students are named based on a nationally applied Selection Index score that may vary from year to year and is typically below the level required for participants to be named Semifinalists in their respective states."

Distributing commended certificates and celebrating these students commonly vary from school to school and may take place at different ceremonies during the year. The LCPS review found that all but three of our high schools have already distributed the notifications to Commended Students. All three identified schools have reached out to all students and parents who were not notified in the fall 2022 of their commendation. In addition, school counseling staff will contact or have already contacted the universities and colleges to which commended students have applied to ensure these schools were made aware of the students’ achievements.

In addition, NMSC notifies only the schools, and not any division-level office, about their awards program. LCPS is pursuing improvement in the NMSC notification process and encourages parents to share their feedback or observations about the division’s process or NMSC’s process.

The Academies of Loudoun (ACL) is not responsible for the notification process for NMSC awards. ACL student notifications are made through the student’s home high school, where they are concurrently enrolled.

As part of continuous process improvements across the division, and in recognition of the importance of these awards, the Office of Student Mental Health Services will create and implement a specific standard operating procedure for each high school administration and office of school counseling. Using resources provided by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, as well as the knowledge of general timelines for the distribution of materials, the standard operating procedure will help ensure effective and timely notification of Commended Students across the division. This resource will be shared with high school principals and directors of school counseling at a joint meeting in January 2023, well in advance of next year’s cycle. The Office of School Counseling Services will review this procedure in the fall of each school year.

Should LCPS families have additional questions they should contact their principal or counseling office.