RICHMOND, Va. (DC News Now) — A panel of federal appellate judges said Tuesday that a Fairfax County high school’s admission policy does not does not discriminate against Asian American students, as a district judge previously ruled.

In issuing its decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit sided with the Fairfax County School Board, which the Coalition for TJ sued. The group claimed that a new admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) discriminated against Asian American students after a 20% reduction in representation that started in 2021.

The school board had revised the policy to include criteria such as income status, English-speaking ability, disability status, and whether students come from an underrepresented high school.

In 2022, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton found that “the purpose of the Board’s admissions overhaul was to change the racial makeup to TJ to the detriment of Asian Americans.”

The appellate court saw things differently, and Judge Robert B. King wrote in the 4th Circuit’s opinion: “We are satisfied that the challenged admissions policy does not disparately impact Asian American students and that the Coalition cannot establish that the Board adopted its race-neutral policy with any discriminatory intent.”

King said that the pre-2020 admissions process at TJHSST primarily drew students from a small group of “feeder” middle schools in Fairfax County.

“Those TJ classes also included very few low-income students, few English-language learners, few students receiving free or reduced-price meals, few special education students, and just a few Black, Hispanic, or multiracial students,” he wrote.

King went on to say that the coalition “cannot satisfy its burden of proving that the Board’s adoption of the race-neutral challenged admissions policy was motivated by an invidious discriminatory intent, whether by way of “racial balancing,” “proxies,” or otherwise.”