Black student forced to share valedictorian title with white student, despite lower GPA, lawsuit claims
An African-American woman has filed a federal lawsuit against a Mississippi school district claiming her brainy daughter was discriminated against when she was forced to share the school’s valedictorian title with a white classmate, whose grade point average was inferior.
Jasmine Shepard and a white student were named “co-valedictorians” the day before they graduated from Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Miss., according to the suit filed Tuesday, the Washington Post reports.
Shepard is the school’s first black valedictorian, according to the suit.
“Prior to 2016, all of Cleveland High School’s valedictorians were white,” it says. “As a result of the school official’s unprecedented action of making an African-American student share the valedictorian award with a white student, the defendants discriminated against,” the suit says, according to the Washington Post.
An attorney for the Cleveland School District called the suit “frivolous,” and claimed the students “had identical grade point averages.”
Jasmine’s mother, Sherry Shepherd, said it was easy to calculate her daughter’s classmate’s grade point average.
“These children have been attending school with each other since middle school,” she said. “We know the schedule, we know what they take, and we have a good idea where the discrepancy lies.”
Last year, a federal judge ruled that it had failed to desegregate its schools approximately 50 years after being ordered to do so. The judge ordered the schools in the district to be integrated.
“The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally-guaranteed right of an integrated education,” U.S. District Court Judge Debra M. Brown wrote last year. “Although no court order can right these wrongs, it is the duty of the district to ensure that not one more student suffers under this burden.”
The school district initially fought the judge’s order but later complied with the order.
Shepard told the Washington Post that her daughter was forced to speak after the white valedictorian at graduation, and would have walked behind her too, if she hadn’t objected.
“A child, when they earn honors, they are entitled to receive them,” Shepard said.
The suit asks for unspecified monetary damages and for Jasmine to be renamed “sole valedictorian.”
Shepard said she harbored no ill-will toward her daughter’s counterpart, calling her “the kindest-hearted, sweetest person.”