Jasmine Shepard was the top of her class and had the highest GPA, but her Mississippi high school forced her to “share” the title with students whose GPAs were lower. The school has never done something like this before, but they’ve also never had a black valedictorian before. She and her family think it’s because of her race.
“Prior to 2016, all of Cleveland High School’s valedictorians were white,” a lawsuit against the school says, according to The Washington Post. “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.”
Shepard was also forced to deliver her speech to students after the white student and would have been forced to walk behind the girl as well if Jasmine hadn’t protested. However, Jasmine doesn’t want to see backlash against the other student, saying that the young woman is “the kindest-hearted, sweetest person.”
The Cleveland School District, through an attorney, is calling the suit “frivolous” claiming the students had identical “grade point averages.”
Her mother said that it was easy to calculate the classmate’s GPA and verify if the two matched.
“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.”
“A child, when they earn honors, they are entitled to receive them,” her mother continued.
According to Jasmine’s mother, racial tensions are prevalent in the school district. In 2016, a federal judge ruled that the district failed to desegregate schools despite the 50-year-old Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision ordering them to.
“The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally-guaranteed right of an integrated education,” U.S. District Court Judge Debra M. Brown wrote last year. “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 school tried to fight the order but ultimately gave up.
Shepard’s lawsuit demands unspecified damages and to be correctly named “sole valedictorian.”