“It’s so important to be able to say, ‘Hey, I just want you to know that I’m one of the best academics in our country,’” says Asra Nomani, parent of former student and education advocate Thomas Jefferson who wrote an op-ed about the school. holding notifications. “Ticking that little box in the app is your ticket to all kinds of opportunity.”
Now, parents plan to send letters to state and county education leaders demanding that Ann Bonitatibus, principal at Thomas Jefferson, and Brandon Kosatka, director of student services, be removed from their posts. Parents also want consistent policies across schools and school districts that mandate how students are to be notified of awards.
Each year, around 1.5 million students compete in the National Merit Scholarship Program, according to its website. Students enter by taking the PSAT/NMSQT, a nationally standardized test, usually during their first year.
This year, only the top 50,000 scorers are eligible for recognition. Top scorers are named finalists or semifinalists, which means they can compete for the Merit Scholarship award. Fairfax County students who obtained that status were publicly recognized earlier this year.
With Student of Honor, Fairfax County Public Schools called the delay a “one-off human error” and denied allegations that Thomas Jefferson officials intentionally withheld information from the 261 students who received the award. School counselors have emailed and made phone calls to the college where the affected student has applied to notify them of the student’s honour, said Julie Moult, a school spokeswoman.
“FCPS understands the hard work and dedication of every student competing for college entrance opportunities and scholarships,” Moult said in a statement. “We are continuing to investigate this matter and will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure consistency in proper and timely notification of recognition of National Services going forward.”
About 34,000 students nationwide qualify as honors students. The student is not in competition for a Merit Scholarship but is eligible for other awards. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which oversees the competition, advised high schools to inform students of the discrepancy — a process that didn’t happen until later this fall at Thomas Jefferson, parents said. Fairfax Schools officials did not answer questions about whether other high schools in the system had problems notifying students who were being praised.
Trouble at Thomas Jefferson came to light after Shawnna Yashar’s parents discovered in mid-November that their son had been awarded a letter of commendation by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, Nomani said. Students are usually notified of honored student status in September so they can mark distinctions on college applications, according to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
Yashar’s son said he and other students received the letter on November 14 during their homeroom term. Yashar said he contacted Bonitatibus about the delay, and ended up getting on the phone with Kosatka.
Kosatka, according to Yashar, said the school wanted to distribute the letters “quietly.”
“There aren’t many kids who don’t get one of the awards, and we don’t want them to feel bad about it,” recalls Yashar when Kosatka said. School system officials said they were unable to verify that the conversation took place.
“I am very disappointed that they are not providing this information to students,” Yashar said in an interview with The Post on Thursday.
Other parents have come forward to share similar experiences or criticize the school for the delay. Harry Jackson, whose son is a junior, said the issue could have a “disastrous” effect on students at Thomas Jefferson – most of whom are students of color.
“It’s an asset,” Jackson said of national differences. “It has value, if you are notified immediately.”
Nomani said her son, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson in 2021, likely missed his chance because he wasn’t notified of Student Commendation status in 2020. (A school spokesperson said the district’s digital records show students commended from the Class of 2021 notified via email on September 2020.)
“We cannot apply that he has this honor, to then be identified for the scholarship program,” said Nomani. He now plans to contact his son’s school and request that his application be reconsidered.