The Parent Teacher Student Association at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology appears safe from being disbanded — at least for now.
Just last month, the TJ PTSA was on the verge of having its charter revoked by the Virginia PTA for hostile behavior and political conflict. If that happened, the TJ PTSA would have been disbanded and its assets, including $80,000 meant to fund student events, would have been seized.
Since then, though, according to treasurer Himanshu Verma, the TJ PTSA has seen a dramatic turn of events. After months of allegations hurled from both sides, members of the executive committee held a “meet-and-greet” with the state PTA on July 21. Although nothing of substance was discussed, Verma says the meeting considerably improved relations between the two sides.
“After that meeting … everything changed. It was a wonderful meeting,” Verma said. “We realized we're all human beings after all and everyone wants the same thing. It did not look like there was any contention between the VA PTA and us at that point.”
The PTSA dispute was the latest challenge at the magnet school, which draws students from across Northern Virginia. The school also has been involved in controversy around its change to admission policies last year.
The July 21 meeting with the state group included once-removed PTSA president Bonnie Qin. Members of the TJ PTSA executive committee voted 3-1 on July 9 to remove Qin from her post for allegedly blocking access to communication channels. In response, the state PTA placed the organization on probation and ordered that they reinstate Qin by July 31.
At the time, Harry Jackson — who took over as president after Qin’s removal — told InsideNoVa that the demands were unreasonable and that he was exploring ways to contest them. However, the TJ PTSA executive committee was eventually forced to give in.
“Any decisions that we took in the July 9 meeting are no longer valid,” Verma said. “In general, people agree that the decision to vote her out in that meeting was probably wrong, because it was not a special meeting. In order to vote out the president, you have to call a special meeting, and that requires a five-day notice.”
Qin’s return to her role as president didn’t last long, though; she resigned July 28. Qin contended that other members of the executive committee refused to work with the state PTA unless she was no longer on the committee. Verna denies that allegation.
“Since a number of the current TJPTSA Executive Board Officers seemed to make removing [me] their condition for cooperating with the VA PTA Support Team, it is my sincere hope that my resignation will convince them to finally prioritize the community’s best interest over their own personal and political agendas,” Qin wrote in an announcement to the general membership.
After Qin’s resignation, Jackson ascended back into the role of PTSA president. In order to avoid being disbanded, the executive committee also invited vice presidents Li Yang and Jun Wang back onto the committee before the July 31 deadline. Yang and Wang previously resigned in early July due to internal conflict.
The TJ PTSA will continue working with the state PTA as it awaits an end to its probation period. So far, the process has not been without bumps.
On Aug. 8, Jackson sent an email to the general membership and the school principal in which he disapproved of a student orientation held by the TJ Alumni Action group, which consists of alumni in favor of recent changes to the admissions process. The state PTA reprimanded Jackson and the executive committee for the email.
“We will discuss this failure to adhere to terms of the probation letter regarding the call for meetings and the critical need to focus on mission-based activities as defined in the TJ PTSA bylaws with the Executive Committee during the next TJ PTSA EC meeting,” the Virginia PTA wrote in an email on Aug. 10.
Aside from raising concerns about student orientations, the TJ PTSA has restructured its committee system and appointed new chairs. Parent Elaine Maag said many of the events a TJ PTSA would normally organize at the start of a school year have not occurred.
“It's not clear to me what direction the PTSA is going,” Maag said. ”I would have thought that we’d be at the point where we would be learning about what the PTSA plans to do.”
Anuj Khemka is a senior at TJ and a member of the editorial board of tjTODAY.