Virginia Gov. Youngkin calls for investigation into Thomas Jefferson High over awards controversy

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin is calling for an investigation into allegations that Thomas Jefferson High School, one of the top high schools in Northern Virginia, deprived students of the national merit recognition they earned until after important deadlines for college scholarships had passed.

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

"We need to get to the bottom of what appears to be an egregious, deliberate attempt to disadvantage high-performing students at one of the best schools in the country," said Governor Glenn Youngkin. "Parents and students deserve answers and Attorney General Miyares will initiate a full investigation. I believe this failure may have caused material harm to those students and their parents, and that this failure may have violated the Virginia Human Rights Act."

The school's alleged misconduct was discovered by a parent, Shawna Yashar, whose son was not told he was among the nation's top 3% of students. The parent said they were told that teachers dropped certificates unceremoniously on students' desks about a month past special deadlines for National Merit Scholars. 

Yashar said that when she confronted the Director of Student Services Brandon Kosatka about it by phone, he allegedly told her that student leaders underplayed the recognition because they didn't want to hurt the feelings of other students who weren't being honored.

Fairfax County Public Schools recently adopted a new strategy: "Equal outcomes for every student, without exceptions." 

FOX 5 spoke with Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears who said she, Governor Glenn Youngkin, and Attorney General Jason Miyares are upset about these allegations.

"We’re finding out quite a bit and this is a New Year, but sometimes I tell you it feels like it’s the same hell. We’ve got to start doing things differently and that’s one reason why we were elected to ensure there’s transparency in the education system. We’re calling for transparency everywhere else, so why not education as well?" Earle-Sears said.

READ MORE: Parents want Thomas Jefferson High School leaders fired over awards controversy

The unfolding controversy is gaining national attention, even prompting Virginia Delegates like Glenn Davis to voice his concerns. In a tweet, Davis said, "There should be a class action lawsuit against every school employee who knew about this and did nothing."

Davis told FOX 5: "It was just crazy. Thomas Jefferson is one of the best schools in the nation for Science and Technology. And they should be celebrating kids' success, not trying to hide it, which is exactly what happened."

Fairfax County Public Schools released this statement on Gov. Youngkin's call for an investigation:

"We are aware of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s comments today and we share his desire to get to the facts surrounding the delay in notification of National Merit Commendations at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology for 2022. Indeed, we have initiated a third-party, independent investigation into this matter.  Our preliminary understanding is that the delay this fall was a unique situation due to human error. The investigation will continue to examine our records in further detail and we will share key findings with our community. In addition, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid is meeting with families this evening to listen to their concerns. Should the Virginia Attorney General’s office initiate an investigation, FCPS stands ready to work with our partners at the state level. As a reminder, once this error was brought to light, school staff reached out to colleges to update records where commended scholars had applied."

Parents hold rally ahead of meeting with FCPS superintendent

Tuesday evening, Fairfax Co. Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid held a community meeting at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Parents, students, and community members were allowed to comment and ask questions about the situation. 

A handful of the most vocal people gathered with signs for a rally before the meeting.

While some have called for school officials to be fired and even allege there could be criminal wrongdoing, others at the meeting argued what happened is being politicized.

"I think the fact that it’s being blown out of proportion so much, there’s really another motivation for that other than the fact that parents want their kids to be recognized," said a TJ senior named Liam, who requested not to use his last name. "And I just don’t think that there should be this much flack flying around just because of a small oversight on the part of FCPS."

Linda Winston said her child, who's a senior at TJ, was among those who got the merit award and found out late.

She questioned Youngkin’s call for an investigation.

"This is not an issue that is worthy of an investigation and to me, it seems like a proxy for other things that people are concerned about," Winston said. 

There were some clashes during the meeting as people disagreed over the severity of what happened.

"I’m a little disappointed in some of the parents' responses that downplay the significance of this award," said parent Harry Jackson. "Not understanding, they think that it is just simply a pat on the back, but actually what it really signified was: One, the student is proficient as a gifted learner … And secondly, it also informs the parents and that student that they’re eligible for over 800 scholarship opportunities, which is significant."