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Black Student Sues School District After She Claims Salutatorian Title Was Awarded to White Student With Lower GPA Over Fears of ‘White Flight’

A Black student who attended a high school in Cleveland, Mississippi, has filed a lawsuit against her school district and its officials. She alleges a white student was named salutatorian even though she had a higher grade point average.

The filing, which was made in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi April 26, says Olecia James, 18, discovered her GPA would be lowered two weeks before newly integrated Cleveland Central High School’s graduation in May 2018. James, the lawsuit said, would have the quality points she had earned from courses she had taken at historically Black East Side High School, which shuttered in 2016, reduced. Meanwhile, the same average taken from the white student was not lowered based on his classes at Cleveland Central, which was previously the all-white high school before the federally ordered integration — one the school initially fought against out of fear of white students leaving — in 2017.

Olecia James
Olecia James is suing her high school district, alleging she was passed up for salutatorian title in favor of a white schoolmate. (Photo: @OleciyahJay/Twitter)

After meeting with various school and district officials, Dr. Jacqueline Thigpen, the superintendent, presented James with a new transcript that restored her quality points average score that had been reduced.

James’ “cumulative weighted quality point average” was a 4.41, which would make her the first salutatorian, the filing states. However, days after that was presented at a school board meeting, Principal Randy Grierson announced a white male student as the salutatorian, despite his GPA being 4.34.

“The defendants, in light of the newly formed consolidated Cleveland Central High School and in their angst to prevent white flight, named W.M., a white male student, as salutatorian of the inaugural class of Cleveland Central High School in 2018, a position he had not earned, and in doing so, discriminated against Olecia James, a black female who had earned the position,” the suit alleges.

James and her grandmother met with two district officials about the issue again the following day. However, they were then presented with another printout of James’ QPA, which listed it as a QPA as 4.33, 0.01 lower than the white salutatorian’s and 0.08 points less than her weighted QPA.

When asked about the change, Thigpen responded, “I’ll have to look into it,” according to the suit.

The filing seeks monetary damages and says James “has suffered loss of scholarships, loss of opportunities, humiliation, loss of self-esteem, embarrassment, mental anguish, emotional distress, pain and suffering.” She told The Washington Post was admitted to the University of Mississippi but lost the scholarship because it was for salutatorians.

Additionally, the suit wants the district to be ordered to adhere to its policy regarding selecting honors students at Cleveland Central, and declare James, who now attends Alcorn State University, as the 2018 salutatorian.

“I’m not just fighting for me, but the people after me. I pray I beat the case. God, I let go. Do ya thang,” she tweeted days after the filing.

The school district has not issued a response to the filing.

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