Prince William County superintendent apologizes for National Merit ‘oversight’

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Prince William County Schools Superintendent LaTanya McDade said the school system was “deeply sorry” for what she called “sheer human error” that delayed the notification of more than 20 county students of their National Merit commendations.

In remarks at Wednesday night’s School Board meeting, McDade said the four schools — Colgan, Patriot, Battlefield and Forest Park high schools — had recently notified students and families of the commendations, albeit months late. She also said that in the future, each county high school would designate a point person responsible for distributing commendations and awards from the National Merit Scholarship Program.

“Our leaders and teams work incredibly hard to not only acknowledge but also celebrate all student achievement. And those schools that experienced this oversight, based on sheer human error, are devastated that this was a missed opportunity to recognize their students’ accomplishment,” McDade said in her prepared remarks Wednesday night. “ … We are deeply sorry for the oversight and offer a sincere apology on behalf of our schools, school division and School Board for any frustration that the delay in notification may have caused our students and families.”

Earlier in the week, the school system acknowledged that four schools had failed to notify 28 commended students — those who scored in the top roughly 50,000 PSAT takers but did not qualify as scholarship semifinalists — before college application deadlines in November.

The system’s announcement came over a week after Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced an investigation into Fairfax County Public Schools and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology over similar failures to notify commended students. Miyares said he was also investigating the school’s revised admission policies, claiming that both the admissions changes and the notification controversy may have been racially motivated.

Since parents at Thomas Jefferson raised alarm over the failure to notify commended students in late December, seven other Fairfax schools and four high schools in Loudoun County have admitted to doing the same.

McDade told the School Board that in addition to appointing a school staff member to ensure notification of commendations, the school system would reach out to the National Award Scholarship Program asking them to notify students directly rather than sending the notices to schools.

Gainesville School Board Member Jen Wall said she appreciated the steps that the school system would be taking to avoid a similar issue in the future, but added that there were still questions that had to be answered.

“I do think there may be additional questions that the public has, and they may still want additional answers, such as, ‘Do we know what happened and have we had issues like this in the past?’” Wall said Wednesday night.

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