The best US school hides students’ academic awards so as not to hurt people’s feelings

For years, two principals at a top American school withheld academic awards, reportedly not wanting to hurt the feelings of students who didn’t receive the award.

Administrators at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) have withheld notifications of National Merit Awards from the school’s families, most of whom are Asian, thereby denying students the right to use those awards to improve their prospects to improve college admissions and make money grants that New email reports.

This episode comes amid the school district’s new policy of “equal outcomes for all students, no exceptions.”

School administrators, for example, have implemented a “fair grading” policy that eliminates zeros, gives students a 50 percent grade just for showing up, and assigns a cryptic code “NTI” for unturned assignments.

An intrepid Thomas Jefferson parent, Shawna Yashar, an attorney, exposed the reluctance of National Merit Awards.

Since she started school as a freshman in September 2019, her son, who is part Arab-American, has been studying statistical analysis, literary review and college-level science late into the night.

This workload was necessary to keep him up to date with the advanced studies at TJ, which US News & World Report ranks as America’s top school.

Last fall, the Yashar teenager joined about 1.5 million US high school juniors in taking the PSAT, which determines whether a student qualifies as a prestigious National Merit Scholar.

When it came time to submit his college applications this fall, he had no national merit award to report — but it wasn’t because he didn’t deserve the award.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a non-profit organization based in Evanston, Illinois, recognized him as a Committed Student in the top 3 percent nationally, one of approximately 50,000 students to receive the honor.

Principals typically celebrate National Merit Scholars with special breakfasts, awards ceremonies, YouTube videos, press releases, and social media announcements.

But TJ School officials had decided to withhold announcing the award.

In fact, it turns out that the principal, Ann Bonitatibus, and the director of the student union, Brandon Kosatka, withheld this information from families and the public for years, impacting the lives of at least 1,200 students during the principal’s five-year tenure. National Merit recognition opens the door to millions of dollars in college scholarships and 800 special grants from corporate sponsors.

Author Asra Q. Nomani learned—two years later—that National Merit had recognized her son, a graduate of the TJ class of 2021, as a recommended student in a September 10, 2020 letter that National Merit sent to Bonitatibus.

But the principal, who campaigned this fall to scrap the school’s merit-based entrance test to increase “diversity,” never told the family.

Parents from previous years told me that she didn’t tell them about awards for recommended students either.

One former student said he learned he had won the prize through a random email from the school to a district email account that students rarely check; The principal has neither told his parents nor disclosed it publicly.

On September 16 of that year, National Merit sent a letter to Bonitatibus listing 240 students who were recognized as recommended students or semifinalists.

The letter included these words in bold: “Please provide the letters of recommendation as soon as possible, as this is the students’ only notification.”

National Merit hadn’t included enough stamps in the package, but it still arrived at Bonitatibus in mid-October—before the October 31 deadline for early admission to select colleges.

In an email, Bonitatibus Yashar said she signed the certificates “within 48 hours.”

But class teachers didn’t hand out the awards until Monday, November 14, after the early application deadlines had passed.

The teachers unceremoniously dropped the reports on the students’ desks.

“Withholding these certificates from students is theft by the state,” says Yashar.

Bonitatibus has not notified parents or the public. What’s more, local parent advocate Debra Tisler says it could be a civil rights violation because most TJ students in a protected class are “gifted” students, most of whom are from minority ethnic groups, many with disabilities, and most from immigrant families whose parents speak English as a second language.

“It’s just cruel,” says Tisler.

Speaking to Yashar, Kosatka admitted that the decision to withhold information from parents and to be reticent about informing students was intentional.

“We want to recognize students for who they are as individuals and not focus on their achievements,” he told her, claiming that he and the principal did not “hurt the feelings of the students who didn’t receive the award ” wanted to.

A spokeswoman for National Merit said the organization’s officials “leave that honor solely to high school officials” to announce.

Kosatka and Bonitatibus did not respond to requests for comment.

In a rare admission, Fabio Zuluaga, associate principal at Fairfax County Public Schools, told me that the school system made a mistake in not informing students, the public and families about awards: “It was a mistake to be honest.”

Zuluaga said just handing over a certificate isn’t enough either.

“We have to do something special,” he said. “A commendation sends a very strong message to the child, right? Your work is meaningful. If you work hard in life, there are good benefits.”

On Monday, December 12, after being caught, Kosatka emailed the parents of recommended students informing them of the “important recognition” and saying, “We are deeply sorry,” that we did not share the news earlier. He claimed school officials would contact college admissions offices to correct the records.

Bonitatibus has still not publicly acknowledged the students or told parents from previous years that their students won the awards. And she has not yet delivered the missing certificates.

Reprinted with permission from City Journal

This article originally appeared in the NY Post and is reproduced with permission

Originally published as Top US School, it hides academic awards so as not to hurt people’s feelings

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