Virginia’s Lt. Gov. calls for investigation into top high school that withheld merit awards

Virginia’s Lt. Gov. calls for investigation into top high school that withheld merit awards

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears is calling for an investigation after parents discovered that administrators at one of the state’s top public high schools failed to notify students that they had received Nation Merit Scholar certificates until months after the prestigious awards were announced. 

Some parents say the decision to withhold the certificates, which can give students a substantial boost when applying to college, was driven by an ideological push for equity.

“This is reprehensible,” Lt. Gov. Sears wrote on Twitter Friday. “I have reached out to the Governor and Attorney General and asked for an investigation.”

“Our children’s education is not a zero-sum game,” she added. “We cannot punish success in order to have “equal outcomes at all costs.”

Parents say Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology principal Ann Bonitatibus, and the director of student services, Brandon Kosatka withheld National Merit Commended Student awards from students and their parents for months, only to unceremoniously alert the students by dropping off certificates at their desks. 

Shawna Yashar said her son, a senior at the high school, was only notified that he had been recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s award, which recognizes students in the top 3 percent of seniors nationwide, in mid-November despite the school principal learning about the award months before. 

She said by the time her son had received the certificate, it was too late to mention it on his college applications which were due in late October, according to Asra Nomani, the parent of a former student at the high school who described the details in an article for the Fairfax Times. 

Mr. Kosatka told Ms. Yashar that the decision to withhold the information from parents and to present the award to students unceremoniously was intentional.

“We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals, not focus on their achievements,” he told her in a call, according to the account published by the newspaper.

Ms. Nomani wrote that principles are usually quick to announce the awards “with special breakfasts, award ceremonies, YouTube videos, press releases, and social media announcements” once the final results are made public in mid-September.”

She added that the decision to withhold the awards coincided with the school district awarding a $455,000 contract “for ‘equity’ training that includes a controversial ‘Equity-centered Strategic Plan’ with this goal: ‘equal outcomes for every student, without exception.’”

Ms. Yashar said keeping the awards hidden amounted to “theft by the state.”