A black mother brought a federal lawsuit against a Mississippi school district last week, claiming that it made her daughter “co-valedictorian” with a white student who had a lower grade-point average.
Jasmine Shepard, the very first black valedictorian in 110 years in the Cleveland, Miss., school district, says that the day before graduation last year, she found out that she would be forced to share the honor, the Washington Post reports.
Sherry Shepard, Jasmine’s mother, who maintains a “Justice for Jasmine” Facebook page, said that her daughter had to speak after the white valedictorian at the May 2016 graduation, and also was slated to walk behind her before she objected.
“Prior to 2016, all of Cleveland High School’s valedictorians were white,” the suit 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.”
An attorney for the Cleveland School District defends the action, saying that the students “had identical grade-point averages.”
He further said, “The district’s policy is racially neutral and fair to students.”
However, Jasmine’s mother isn’t buying it. She says that because the community is so small, it’s easy to calculate the students’ grade-point averages. Plus, even if both students received grades of A, if Jasmine took more Advanced Placement or honors classes, her GPA would technically be higher.
“These children have been attending school with each other since middle school,” Sherry said. “We know the schedule, we know what they take, and we have a good idea where the discrepancy lies.”
There’s more, of course. The lawsuit claims that the designation came “on the heels of a federal judge’s ruling that the Cleveland School District had failed to desegregate its schools approximately 50 years” after being ordered to do so.
When ordered to desegregate last year, the school district in Cleveland initially fought the judge’s order.
The suit asks for unspecified monetary damages and for Jasmine Shepard to be declared “sole valedictorian.”
“A child, when they earn honors, they are entitled to receive them,” said Sherry Shepard. “There is no inclusion in the Cleveland school district. When the district wants something, they just take it.”
Read more at the Washington Post.