/Court rules against former student in Cleveland School District discrimination claim over shared valedictorian title

Court rules against former student in Cleveland School District discrimination claim over shared valedictorian title

Nonprofit Mississippi News CLEVELAND — While Cleveland School District may have erred in awarding valedictorian to Jasmine Shepard (an African American student) and Jasmine Shepard (another white student), a federal judge ruled that there was no federal civil rights violation. Shepard sued the school district in June 2017 alleging that she was forced to share the 2016 valedictorian title by school officials with a white student, despite Shepard’s higher GPA. Hers was the last class that graduated from Cleveland High School before a federal order compelled East Side High High, which was predominantly black, and Cleveland High to merge. The lawsuit stated that school officials made an unprecedented decision to award the valedictorian award to an African-American student. This discriminated against the student. Shepard was enrolled as a senior in Human Anatomy & Physiology, but she asked to be dropped from the class. The curriculum guide stated that this class was not ranked as highly as advanced or accelerated classes. It would also lower her GPA, even if she received an A. She asked to be dropped from the class and was instead placed in Desktop Publishing, an elective course she had taken previously and passed. Debra Brown, U.S. District Judge, stated that Shepard wasn’t made aware she could enroll online while two other white students were. Brown wrote in her opinion that the Mississippi Department of Education had not approved these online classes. Shepard didn’t know that she could enroll in an online course. Shepard tried to contact Alyson Jones, the school counselor, about her schedule. Jones could not be found because she was not in her office. Shepard relied solely on the curriculum guide which does NOT contain information about online courses. Shepard was also a valedictorian with a white student who took Human Anatomy, Physiology and was incorrectly awarded more points than the curriculum allowed. She was also allowed to take an unapproved online physics course. According to court filings, these two mistakes combined increased her GPA to as high as Shepard. Her GPA was also affected by Shepard’s being placed in a class that she had taken before. Judge Brown stated that “there is no doubt that rank points were incorrectly assigned or that these inappropriate assignments negatively affected Shepard.” Arnold Luciano representing the school district said that mistakes were made at the district level but that they were not accidental and did not rise above the level of a federal civil right violation. Luciano stated that he is not confident that new policies or procedures will be implemented to prevent what happened to Shepard from happening to other students. It is possible that accidents could occur. “We’re trying our best to ensure that when accidents do occur it’s a reminder to us all to remain vigilant and prevent similar events from happening again.” Lisa Ross, attorney representing Shepard, stated that she doesn’t believe Shepard’s case was caused by random incidents, but rather was racially motivated. Ross stated that she doesn’t believe Cleveland School District would allow a white child to sit in a class where she has already received an A. They didn’t have any other places for her. The suit was brought against former superintendent Jacquelyn Thygpen, Cleveland School District and former principal of Cleveland High School Steven Craddock. Brown stated in her opinion that Shepard would have to prove, under federal law that discrimination took place because of an official policy that resulted in the deprivation. Her evidence would also have to show that Thigpen, Craddock knew of the pattern of deprivation. Brown ruled that the claims could not be accepted because they didn’t meet the criteria. Olecia James (an African-American student at the newly consolidated Cleveland Central) filed suit in May against the district alleging similar facts. James claimed she was stripped from the salutatorian honor because of fear of white flight. Instead, a white male received salutatorian. Her case remains pending. Ross was asked if the facts in her case could be used to show a pattern in James’ case. She replied, “I believe some of this language will help us when [James] case.” She also stated that she intends to appeal Shepard’s ruling. “We intend to appeal because race was the motivating factor for the valedictorian selection procedure… regardless of whether these were all errors, or whether they were motivated by race. That’s why we appeal because we believe a jury should make the decision.”_x000D