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Lawsuits, Another Tool To Defund Public Education

Lawsuits: Another Tool to Defund Public Education. The Merit and Costs of a Manufactured Crisis.

School Districts are Under Fire

School districts across the country are under fire. The assaults on our school systems are not just being fought just at school board meetings and by FOIA, but they are also being conducted through politically motivated lawsuits and investigations, many of which lack merit. 

Here in Northern Virginia, we are in the eye of the storm with near constant politically-motivated news coverage, lawsuits, or investigations–all of which pop up too often for any one citizen or group to monitor. Last December, 4 Public Education promised it would examine the National Merit Commended Certificate “crisis” in order to estimate its impact on the school district. This “crisis” involved an expensive investigation by FCPS and of FCPS by the Youngkin administration, vilification of the school district via significant negative national and local media coverage, and multiple legal attacks on our school system. These investigations and lawsuits racked up substantial legal costs for FCPS and the Commonwealth, and unknown other financial and emotional costs during a nearly year-long attack on FCPS staff.

However, in the current case of Miyares v. FCPS, the facts are particularly bewildering. Seemingly, based on exaggerated reporting and the complaint of one non-Asian parent, Attorney General Jason Miyares leveraged the civil rights division of the Commonwealth of Virginia to pursue an investigation of alleged anti-Asian discrimination due to delayed distribution of National Merit Commended Certificates, despite no Asian-American students or families raising an alarm about 2022 delays of the certificates. 

AG Miyares’ investigation resulted in two legal cases, unnecessary confusion and division in the Fairfax community, more outsized scrutiny attention on Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), a distraction from the education of students in FCPS, and an untold amount of taxpayer money wasted on a fake crisis. Also, it cost over $1.6 million in outside legal fees to date for two legal cases, per a recent FOIA from FCPS: AG Miyares’s case cost FCPS $1,376,484 and Mark Spooner’s case cost FCPS $266,270 in outside legal fees.

We will now fulfill that promise by revealing the full story of the investigations and lawsuits that cost taxpayers millions dollars through:

  • Describing the issue and Governor Youngkin’s involvement in the investigation.

  • Mythbusting the “Commended Certificate Crisis.”

  • Defining a manufactured crisis and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) process.

  • Describing the FCPS investigation and identifying impact on FCPS staff and students.

  • Detailing the legal cases against FCPS by Attorney General Jason Miyares and retired lawyer Mark Spooner.

These subjects will all be detailed in drop-downs below. Click on the triangles to read more about any of these discussions. 

As best as possible, this blog will refer to source documents, news reports, and FOIAs to detail the financial and local impact of the Commended Certificate Crisis. However, as I share the story of the “Commended Certificate Crisis” below, I will share personal observations about the events, because I (accidently) found myself in the eye of the storm. My own high school Junior had received PSAT scores in December 2022, and would be going through the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) process during the 2023-24 school year, which made me curious about the news reports, and later confused why some news sources were making a mountain out of a molehill. Even I knew that commended certificates were nice, but no key to the kingdom of college admission and scholarships. 

Also, as a regular at school board meetings, I was interviewed by Fox 5 about the National Merit “Commended Certificate Crisis” because I mentioned it in my public input to the school board. Specifically, I said “I’m dismayed by recent news about FCPS…that delayed paper certificates are taking priority over critical needs of all of our students and that the loudest voices are using this as yet another opportunity to pit equity against merit as if they are mutually exclusive.

During this interview with Fox 5, I was interrupted, stalked, and videoed by the Coalition for TJ parent responsible for the initial and ongoing local reporting on the manufactured Commended Certificate Crisis. Likely, that intimidation inspired me to attend a number of legal hearings this summer to see how taxpayer money was spent on such ridiculous allegations.

So…sit back and enjoy this blog that covers how a manufactured crisis siphoned $1.64 million in outside legal costs from Fairfax County’s budget. Click on the triangles below to expand any section.

Fear and Confusion Feed a Manufactured Crisis

While We Weren't Watching, a Manufactured Crisis Unfolds

Governor Youngkin Quickly Intervenes in the "Crisis"

AG Miyares Platforms the Coalition for TJ

TJ Families Myth-Bust the "Crisis" Narrative

What is the National Merit Scholarship process?

FCPS Investigates to Reveal the Truth about the "Crisis"

Where there is a Will, There is a Costly Lawsuit

Financial, Emotional, and Education Costs of a Manufactured Crisis

We will never know the full impact of the manufactured Commended Certificate Crisis on FCPS and its employees, much less Fairfax families, particularly those at TJ who were at the heart of the manufactured controversy. We will also never know how much time, energy, and money the governor’s, attorney general’s, and VBOE’s offices spent on this effort. Nor will we ever know what motivated the amplification of this story across social and news media.

But we do know that this affected our schools where time and money was taken from needed education of students and support of teachers, a number of FCPS employees were threatened and harassed directly and on social media, and great harm was done to the safety and reputation of leaders like Superintendent Dr. Reid, TJ Principal Dr. Ann Bonitatibus, and Mr. Brandon Kosatka, TJ's longtime director of student services.

We also know that this manufactured crisis caused division in the community, as people argued over the merits of the case on social media. I felt this division intimately when I was stalked and harassed during an interview with Fox 5 in January 2023 and on social media in 2023.

Ultimately, this was an expensive distraction from the goals of our school system to support and educate children. This manufactured crisis cost $1,642,383 in outside legal fees for two cases that seemed to lack merit and were based on a City Journal opinion piece and a series of Fairfax Times stories. That is quite a lot of money that, as Mr. Royall said, would be better spent “on educating children, and not on legal disputes.” 

Additionally, Superintendent Dr. Reid shared that delays “had nothing to do with race or any effort to downplay students’ achievements” and the investigation found no evidence “suggesting that any later-than-usual notification impaired students’ academic, professional, or financial interests, including college admissions or scholarships.” She indicated that FCPS would create policies to prevent such a situation in future.

As an observer and parent whose child had just received his PSAT scores when this story came out in December 2022, this whole thing seemed bizarre and the timing of the story was suspect–who releases a story over winter break, much less a month after the facts were available? To me, it seemed that not only was there nothing to this story but all of the parties involved in the reporting seemed to be the same ones who were involved in the costly Coalition for TJ lawsuit against FCPS. 

Regarding the impact of delayed notification, all should heed the words of the Nick Anderson in Washington Post when he said: 

“Yet the matter at the core of this drama — a delay in delivery of letters of commendation for standardized test scores at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and elsewhere in Northern Virginia — in all likelihood will have zero effect on the college admission prospects of any high school student or access to financial aid, according to experts in the field.” 

What matters far more than awards and honors, experts say, is the rigor of an applicant’s courses. So do grades, extracurricular activities and obstacles that might have been overcome. If applicants submit test scores, colleges will take into account the SAT or ACT, and often Advanced Placement scores. But experts say admission officers don’t pay much attention to performance on the PSAT/NMSQT.” 

Basically, everyone received their kids' PSATs in December 2021, so by September 2022, they had likely done their due diligence to know whether their student was a semi-finalist or commended student. Thus parents of 2023 and 2024 seniors knew that this story was garbage from the get-go

FCPS described the impact of this case perfectly when it said:

It is regrettable that the AG is continuing to devote public resources and funds to this issue. The AG has all the information it needs to conduct its own investigation. Nonetheless, it has gone to court to try to breach FCPS’s attorney-client privilege. As a matter of principle and in order to protect our valued teachers and staff, we are opposing this unreasonable legal action. “

At the end of the day, this was a costly manufactured crisis to staff and the school district. Of course much of this is truly about money, power, and control: if school districts’ reputations suffer and/or they and school boards look like they are breaking the law or violating civil rights, it is that much easier to defund and dismantle public education. This is part of a game plan to make schools look like they are corrupt, dysfunctional, and inept rather than underfunded and overworked.

Legal means are often necessary to right wrongs, protect students, and ensure that school boards are not flagrantly violating the law. However, lately, legal methods are being used unscrupulously to extract time, money and attention away from our students, teachers, and school systems for culture war debates and click-bait. In this case, for FCPS, the price tag was $1.6 million in outside legal costs.

In a world where local ethical journalists are far and few between, it behooves us to follow the threads to see where it leads us. If you have questions, look at the source documents. Be sure to keep in the loop. Go to the courthouse, if you must and watch the proceedings, and then share your findings. 

You never know, you too may just find the price tag of these unfounded attacks to be too high.


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