Mississippi School Gets First Black Valedictorian, With an Asterisk

GREENVILLE, Miss. (CN) – A mom in Cleveland, Mississippi, claims in court that the local school board appointed a white co-valedictorian rather than have her daughter stand alone on stage as the school’s first black valedictorian in its 110-year history.

As described in the federal complaint filed Tuesday in Greenville, Cleveland High School is a traditionally white school that never had a black valedictorian before J.S. qualified for the honor in the spring of 2016.

The honor just happened to coincide with a federal judge ruling that the Cleveland, Mississippi, school district had failed to desegregate its schools despite being ordered to do so 50 years earlier.

In the wake of the judge’s order, mom Sherry Shepard says the district just couldn’t abide by honoring a black student as academically superior to her white classmates.

Shepard says the school district responded by arbitrarily selecting a white female student, identified in the complaint as H.B., to be co-valedictorian despite her having a demonstrably lower grade point average than J.S.

“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 J.S. in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the complaint says. “Plaintiff has suffered humiliation, loss of self-esteem, embarrassment, loss of opportunities, mental anguish, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and other damages to be shown at the trial of this matter.”

Shepard seeks a determination on behalf of herself and J.S. that her daughter is the sole valedictorian of her graduating class and unspecified monetary damages.

A representative of the school district could not immediately be reached for comment.

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