A black high school graduate has filed a lawsuit against her school after she was forced to share valedictorian status with a white student whose grades were allegedly lower.
Jasmine Shephard, a 2016 graduate of Cleveland High School in Mississippi, sued her school district last week, The Washington Post reported, claiming she was discriminated against on the basis of her race.
The lawsuit suggests the school decided that Shephard and the white student share the valedictorian title, despite the white student having lower grades – a claim the school district denies.
The lawsuit demands an unknown amount of money and wants the school to declare Shephard the only valedictorian.
“Prior to 2016, all of Cleveland High School’s valedictorians were white. 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,” the lawsuit claims.
The student’s mother, Sherry, told the paper the school arranged for her daughter to walk behind the white student and make a speech after the white student.
“A child, when they earn honors, they are entitled to receive them,” the mother said. “There is no inclusion in the Cleveland school district. When the district wants something, they just take it.”
The accused school district denied the allegations made in the lawsuit, branding them “frivolous.” According to the district, both students had the same grades, therefore they had to share the valedictorian status.
“As such, under school board policy, they were both named valedictorian of their graduating class,” Jamie Jacks, an attorney for the district, said. “The district’s policy is racially neutral and fair to students.”
In response to the controversy, the mother and daughter launched the “Justice for Jasmine” campaign and a Facebook page, where they detail their struggle against the school.
“I am humbled by support you have shown to Jasmine and her courage to stand in spite of the Goliaths in this sensitive matter! The outpouring of good wishes and prayers have brought encouragement at some of the most darkest hours,” one post reads.