Thirty-seven Loudoun County parents have filed a lawsuit asking a Circuit Court judge to determine whether recently adopted changes to the Academy of Science and the Academy of Engineering and Technology violate their constitutional rights. The suit also alleges the board violated Virginia’s open meeting laws when the changes were adopted.
The changes were proposed by Superintendent Eric Williams as one element of the school division’s new anti-racism campaign. Earlier this year, Virginia’s Office of the Attorney General announced it was investigating complaints about the extreme low number of Black and Hispanic students accepted into the advanced STEM programs.
Among the changes were to reduce the number of tests used during the months-long qualification period and to create mechanisms to require the slots be distributed more equally among students from each Loudoun middle school.
The lawsuit, filed by Milton C. Johns of Executive Law Partners on behalf of the families, claims the new procedures move away from an objective, merit-based selection process, were developed using faulty data, and do not promote equal opportunity.
While one stated purpose of the changes was to promote racial and ethnic diversity by increasing enrollment of Black and brown students, the petitioners raise another concern.
“The inescapable conclusion from the LCPS presentation is that too many Asian students are admitted to the Academies, and LCPS intends to reduce the number of Asian students, notwithstanding the merit of each student,” reads one paragraph of the 16-page lawsuit.
But even the attempt to increase diversity through the use of geographically balanced admission of middle school students is uncertain to accomplish that goal, the lawsuits states, because the policy make no connection to race, ethnicity or socio-economic status.
“In short, the enrollment at the academies is dependent on who applies, who is admitted, and of those admitted, who decides to enroll. None of those factors can be controlled for geographic diversity without the creation of a quota system,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit claims the new process violates the equal protection requirements of14thAmendment and asks the court to impose an injunction to block use of the new rules for the 2021 admissions class.
The new admissions procedures were adopted Aug. 11 during a School Board meeting conducted electronically, with all members and administrators participating from their homes.
The lawsuit also alleges violations of Virginia’s Freedom on Information Act. Those stem from what members of the public could not see during the webcasted meeting.
The School Board initially voted 5-4 to not adopt the change, but instead to send the proposal to a committee for additional vetting. Immediately after that vote, Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) called a recess and the cameras of the School Board members were turned off. Upon returning from the recess, Denise Corbo (At-Large), who had supported the committee review, requested a reconsideration. The policy was then adopted on another 5-4 vote.
The lawsuit views the change as a result of communications that occurred outside of the public’s view in which one or more members persuaded Corbo to reverse her vote.
“The off-camera meeting was intentional to shield the whipping of votes from public scrutiny on a topic that appeared to be resolved,” the lawsuit states.
The suit seeks both that the board issued an order prohibiting meetings of three or more members without required public notice and access, and an injunction nullifying the motions that followed the recess.
The lawsuit was filed Sept. 1 with service requested to the School Board, which will file an answer before proceedings are held. The School Board is scheduled to receive a closed-door legal briefing on the lawsuit and Virginia Division of Human Rights investigation on Sept 10.