The mother of a Black valedictorian is suing a Mississippi school district after she says a white student was named “co-valedictorian” with her daughter, despite the white student having a lower grade point average.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Northern District of Mississippi on Tuesday, June 27, claims Jasmine Shepard and a fellow classmate were awarded the title of co-valedictorians the day before they graduated from Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Miss., last year, the Washington Post reported.
Shepard is the school’s first African-American valedictorian. The complaint claims that this is the first time in the school’s 110-year history that two valedictorians have been named.
“Prior to 2016, all of Cleveland High School’s valedictorians were white,” the suit states. “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 [Jasmine Shepard].”
A lawyer for the Cleveland School District called the lawsuit “frivolous” and contended that the students “had identical grade point averages.” Shepard’s mother, Sherry Shepard, begged to differ, however, arguing that it was easy to calculate the girls’ GPAs because it’s such a small community.
“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.”
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a federal judged ruling that the Cleveland School District had failed to desegregate its schools nearly 50 years after being ordered to do so, according to The Washington Post. In her ruling last year, U.S. District Court Judge Debra M. Brown ordered the schools to finally be integrated.
“The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally-guaranteed right of an integrated education,” Brown wrote. “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 Cleveland School District, where Black and white families are largely separated by railroad tracks, initially fought the judge’s order but ultimately complied, the newspaper reported.
Sherry Shepard told The Washington Post that her daughter was forced to speak after her white classmate at commencement and would’ve had to walk behind her, too, if she hadn’t objected to it.
“A child, when they earn honors, they are entitled to receive them,” Shepard said.
Despite all this, the mother doesn’t seem to hold any ill will against her daughter’s white classmate, who she describes as “the kindest-hearted, sweetest person.”
Shepard’s lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and asks that Jasmine Shepard be be declared the “sole valedictorian.”