‘Come forward now:’ Youngkin warns schools statewide about delayed accolades

WTOP reporter Nick Iannelli interviews Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued a warning to schools statewide Friday, saying administrators should step forward immediately if there have been any delays in informing students about academic accolades or awards.

“I have made it clear to superintendents and principals across the Commonwealth to go back and really do the work to make sure that this hasn’t happened,” Youngkin told WTOP.

Youngkin said if school officials do find out that occurred, they need to “come forward now.”

“There is something fundamentally wrong here,” Youngkin said.

The governor’s latest comments came amid an investigation from Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares into the Fairfax County public school system over several schools admitting that there were delays in telling students that they had been named “commended students” in the National Merit Scholarship Program.

A number of schools in Loudoun and Prince William counties have since acknowledged that they had delays as well.

High school students achieve the commended status by getting high marks on a test called the “PSAT/NMSQT.”

According to the merit program’s website, principals each year are sent “a list of their school’s commended students with letters of commendation for presentation to the students.”

“There was a delay and sometimes a complete withholding of informing students,” Youngkin said.

While schools involved have said the delays were a result of human error or an administrative oversight, Youngkin has insisted that it was deliberate in some cases, saying many schools are obsessed with “equal outcomes for all students.”

“It is clear that there’s a lot more going on here than a simple clerical error in my mind,” Youngkin said. “The fact that there’s 17 schools across three school divisions certainly suggests that this was not an accident.”

Critics have pointed to the fact that student test scores are available online, meaning students can clearly see whether they have achieved commended status by simply looking up their scores on the internet. Families can also find out whether students are commended by contacting the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

Despite that, Youngkin said “the process is clear” that schools are supposed to award letters of commendation directly to students and families.

He encouraged families to reach out to the merit corporation if they don’t trust the process.

“I sure hope that students across Fairfax, Loudoun County and Prince William County and their families are doing exactly that, because the schools didn’t tell them,” Youngkin said.

Youngkin’s concerns led to a bill being introduced in the General Assembly that would prohibit any public school or employee from withholding recognition, awards or scholarship eligibility. Schools would be required to inform students and families “as soon as practicable after receipt of the information.”

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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