An African American woman has dragged her daughter’s high school to court, claiming that a white student was named “co-valedictorian” alongside her daughter, despite the white student having a lower grade point average (GPA).
In May 2016, Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Mississippi awarded Jasmine Shepard and a white student the title “co-valedictorian,” according to the suit filed to a federal court. This was the first time the school had co-valedictorians in the 110-year history of the school, according to the suit.
“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.”
The school’s attorney described the lawsuit as “frivolous” and said the students “had identical grade point averages.”
“As such, under school board policy, they were both named valedictorian of their graduating class. The district’s policy is racially neutral and fair to students.” The attorney wrote in an email.
However, Sherry Shepard, Jasmine’s mother, said it was easy to calculate the students’ grade-point averages because the community is so small.
“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.”
In an interview, Sherry Shepard said her daughter was forced to speak after the white valedictorian at graduation, and also was slated to walk behind her before she objected.
“A child, when they earn honours, they are entitled to receive them. There is no inclusion in the Cleveland school district. When the district wants something, they just take it.” She said.
The suit asks for unspecified monetary damages and for Jasmine Shepard to be declared “sole valedictorian.” The white valedictorian was identified in the suit only as “H.B.” and Sherry Shepard called her “the kindest-hearted, sweetest person.”