Fall Church, Virginia (AP) – Legislation banning racial discrimination in the admission of high-ranking Virginia schools was passed by a key Senate committee just days after a federal judge ruled that one such school discriminated against Asian Americans.
Republican del. Glen Davis sponsored the bill after Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology, an elite public school in northern Virginia, revised admission policy amid criticism that black and Hispanic students were very underrepresented in the student body.
The changes in TJ are known to have provoked an unpleasant reaction from parents, including Asian American families, who felt the changes were aimed at their success in school. Prior to the change, more than 70 percent of Americans were of Asian descent.
A group of parents sued to block the changes, and last week a federal judge in Alexandria ruled that the new policy discriminates against Asian Americans. The judge ruled that inadmissible “racial balancing” forced the Fairfax County School Board to make changes.
The school board is considering an appeal.
On Thursday, the Senate Education and Health Committee voted 10 to 5 in favor of passing the Davis bill and sending it to a full Senate vote.
The bill was substantially amended at the request of Democrat Senator Petersen to simplify it. The amended bill now simply states that racial discrimination is prohibited in admission policy. It excludes language that sought to be broadly defined, which would constitute discrimination.
Petersen said the simplification of the language leaves it to the courts to determine what constitutes discrimination. He highlighted last week’s decision as proof that the changes made by Fairfax County were discriminatory.
“The point is that the policy (TJ) was adopted in order to, frankly, reduce the number of Asian Americans who visited Thomas Jefferson,” Petersen said. “And all you need to do is look at all the public comments that were made at the time.”
Since federal law already prohibits racial discrimination, it is unclear whether the bill, if passed, will have a practical effect. But Petersen said the bill, however, makes an important statement.
The bill was also part of the legislative agenda of Republican Gov. Glen Yangkin. While the Senate, tightly controlled by Democrats, has slammed much of its agenda, some of Yangkin’s education bills have been successful. The Senate passed a bill suspending school masks that Youngkin signed and went into effect this week. The Senate has also passed a law awaiting Youngkin’s signature, which requires parental notice if students are assigned reading materials with sexual content.
In a second rally on Thursday, the Senate rejected by 8-7 votes a law that allowed local school boards to allow home students to participate in high school sports. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Del Marie March, said 35 states have passed similar laws. Opponents argued that athletes representing the school in inter-school competitions should be students of that school.
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