By DENISE LAVOIE
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court has granted a request from a northern Virginia school system to continue using a challenged admissions policy at a highly selective high school while it appeals a ruling that found the policy discriminates against Asian American students.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a ruling on March 31that Fairfax County Public Schools can continue to use its new admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton rejected the new policy in a February ruling, saying that impermissible “racial balancing” was at its core. Commonly known as “TJ,” the prestigious school near the nation’s capital is often ranked as one of the best public high schools in the country.
Last month, Hilton also rejected a request from the school system to delay the implementation of his ruling. But the 4th Circuit, in a 2-1 ruling, said the school board had met the legal requirements for a suspension of Hilton’s order while its appeal is pending.
The 4th Circuit panel agreed with school officials who argued that because the selection process for the incoming freshman class is well underway, implementing Hilton’s ruling now would throw the process into chaos.
Judge Toby Heytens wrote that he has “grave doubts” about Hilton’s conclusions “regarding both disparate impact and discriminatory purpose” of the new admissions policy.
“In my view, appellant Fairfax County School Board is likely to succeed in its appeal,” Heytens wrote.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Allison Jones Rushing said putting Hilton’s ruling on hold while the school board appeals his decision is not in the public interest. Jones said any logistical difficulties or inconvenience associated with changing the admissions policy at this late date “simply do not outweigh the infringement of constitutional rights.”
“And everyone—even temporarily frustrated applicants and their familie—ultimately benefits from a public-school admissions process not tainted by unconstitutional discrimination,” Rushing wrote.
The case has been closely watched as courts continue to evaluate the role that racial considerations can play when deciding who should be admitted to a particular school.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a similar case alleging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process.’