Black Student Loses Salutatorian Title Due To Discrimination

May 9th, 2019

Although America has changed substantially over the years, some of the original scars are still there.

No matter how old the discussion gets, debates over race and racism in America are never far from the mainstream. Though the standard idea on these issues is that racism is a kind of outright disdain or even a hatred of a certain group of people, the truth is that these ideas can affect everyone in a community in very subtle ways—and not always in the ways we think.

For an example of one of these stories, consider what happened to a student in Mississippi.

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The story takes place in Mississippi’s Cleveland School District, an area that has had issues and struggles around school segregation since 1965.

As many people probably know, the official call for school desegregation began in 1954. Despite that fact, the Cleveland School District has allegedly been finding workarounds and other ways to keep their district segregated since that time.

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As recently as 2017, a federal court case showed that the district had been using an “illegal dual system” to keep black and white children separate, according to the Washington Post.

Despite the fact that schools were officially desegregated in 1954, a federal judge ruled last year that the schools would have to integrate into one school, Cleveland Central High School.

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After that happened, however, the school was sued once again about racial discrimination.

The conflict concerns a a black student named Olecia James, who saw her transcript and was the school’s 2018 salutatorian. Despite her ranking, however, the school announced shortly thereafter that they would be making a white male student the salutatorian instead. As it turns out, James had learned that the school had lowered her GPA by changing her weighted Quality Point Average (QPA) rather than her overall GPA.

After discovering this, James sued the school for altering her grades.

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Though the case is active, various figures involved have speculated as to the school’s reasoning behind their actions.

As it turns out, there was another similar lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of Jasmine Shepherd. In that case, Shepard was the school’s first black valedictorian and was told she had to share the honor with another white student, who allegedly had a lower GPA. According to a deposition from that case, Shepherd said that she believed the reasons for the grade manipulation had to do with the federal case and the area’s demographic changes:

“…They were mostly concerned with white flight and not that of the black students or the black community. So, I believe that that influenced [their] decision to name [another student] co-valedictorian with me to insure that there was less white flight.”


Although these cases are still in the works, this story provokes a lot of discussion about racism and how it actually works in America.

While the laws to break down the division between white and black students are quite old, how those laws and new social norms actually get enforced or enacted are a completely different thing. Though many schools may have complied with the law, not all of them did—and in even doing so, there are still ways to get around the law to achieve a similar effect. For those who have read this story and the background of the school district in general, how do you think these problems could be dealt with in the future?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sources: Washington Post, NPR, People, Clarion Ledger, Heavy, Jackson Free Press