FCPS High Schools Withhold National Merit Commendations

Kayla Katounas

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST), an FCPS school named one of the best high schools in the country, was caught withholding National Merit commendations from its students, leading to an investigation by Fairfax County Public Schools and Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.

During their junior year of high school, many students take the PSAT/NMSQT, an exam provided by the College Board that tests students’ proficiency in reading, writing, and math. One third of the nations top scorers move to a semifinals round, where they have the opportunity to compete for Merit Scholarship awards, while the other two thirds are considered “commended students” and are able to try to get a limited number of scholarships and use the title on college applications. Certificates are sent to schools to give to commended students, notifying them of the honor. Recently, TJHSST parents discovered that their commended students were never notified of their status by the school, preventing them from the opportunity to mention the honor on college and scholarship applications until after early acceptance deadlines had passed.

According to the Fairfax Times, the certificates arrived on the principal’s desk with a letter that read “please present the letters of commendation as soon as possible since it is the students’ only notification.” In the same article, a TJHSST parent mentioned that in a call with Brandon Kosatka, the school’s student services director, Kosatka mentioned that the commendations were withheld so as not to “hurt” the feelings of non-commended students. Alternatively, an email sent by FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid said that the “current understanding is that the delay at TJHSST this fall was a unique situation due to human error,” though the final conclusion will be determined by a third party investigation.

FCPS is not the only group investigating this issue. Governor Glenn Youngkin has called for an investigation by the Virginia Attorney General. “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 Youngkin, “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.” On January 4th, Attorney General Jason Miyares officially launched an investigation into the issue. 

Since this was announced, it has come out that several other FCPS high schools also withheld merit commendations this school year. After the news about TJHSST came to light, many other school principals sent out emails and letters to parents, notifying them of the issue. The first schools to do this were Langley and Westfield, then a week later Annandale, Edison, West Potomac, and John R. Lewis sent out messages. According to an email sent to parents from Superintendent Reid, “the Attorney General has extended his investigation to include all Fairfax County Public Schools.” There are now two Prince William County and four Loudoun County high schools that are also facing the same problem. 

So far, there has not been any conclusion made about what is going on at these high schools. While the most recent statement from FCPS regarding the cause of this issue cites it as “human error,” many people in the FCPS community are growing more skeptical as more schools release statements, but it is now up to the Attorney General to determine.