Two Mississippi High School Co-Valedictorian and Co-Salutatorian Asked to Share Honors with White Students on Graduation Day

Two Mississippi High School Co-valedictorian and Co-salutatorian Asked to Share Honors with White Students on Graduation Day Once White Parents Questioned Selection Process

A  high school’s decision to honor a co-valedictorian and a co-salutatorian alongside two other students that had already received the titles has caused controversy and claims of racism. Two Black students Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple, were named valedictorian and salutatorian of their class at West Point High School in West Point, Mississippi on May 27. However, after a white parent contacted the school questioning officials about whether they’d followed the guidelines outlined in the student handbook for selecting the top students. Then two other students both white were named co-valedictorian and a co-salutatorian on the day of graduation on June 1.

Social media users criticized the school’s decision causing Superintendent Burnell McDonald to issue a statement about the decision.

“(The parents’) argument was that based on our handbook, we should’ve been using semester averages,” he said. “And when you generate the report from the system, it clearly shows the two white students would’ve been first and second based on that number,” McDonald told Mississippi Today.

“If someone assumes I was discriminatory in my decisions, they are absolutely wrong. I don’t know if you can tell on the phone, but I’m African-American myself. … This is not based on who the parents are, the race of the kids — it’s based on doing what’s right for all students” McDonald said.

McDonald says the school guidance counselor, was provided with incorrect information about how to make the selections. The counselor made the designations based on quality point average on a 4.0 scale, instead of grade point average. McDonald says the designations are usually made on the 0 to 100 grade point average scale.

According to the student handbook, “A student’s rank in his/her graduating class will be calculated by averaging his/her semester averages.” However, another district policy says that dual credit and dual enrollment courses are calculated using a 4.0 scale to determine QPA and GPA.

Angela Washington and Lakira Temple, the mothers of the Black students had a meeting with McDonald. The school principal on the day of the graduation and say they were provided with conflicting information.

“I’m still baffled,” Washington said, who was left with the impression that based on how the school has made the calculations in the past, her and Temple’s daughters would have been ranked valedictorian and salutatorian.

“What it looks like is because the handbook doesn’t specifically say GPA (grade point average) or QPA (quality point average), to make the other side happy, he changed the rules on his own,” she said. The parents said they learned about the other two students receiving the honors through social media but didn’t receive communication from the school. Their daughters were asked to return their stoles to the school without explanation.

All four students, including Emma Berry and Dominic Borgioli, were allowed to speak at gradation, where McDonald apologized at the ceremony.

On Facebook, Washington alleged that school officials changed the rules to help Berry and Borgioli due to, because their scholarships were in jeopardy. . “In my eyes they are the only Val and Sal of 2021,” Washington wrote.

Angela Washington Facebook comment/ Screenshot

The original salutatorian Layla Temple started saying, “I’m so very grateful, honored and humbled to be the true class of 2021 salutatorian.”

Melissa Borgioli, the mother of one of the co-honorees, denied the concept that the situation had something to with race.

“Because those two young ladies are African-American and my son and the other person are white, it’s become a racial issue when it’s strictly a ‘the counselor did not use the correct policy and the school wouldn’t admit it’ issue,” Borgioli said. In a statement West Point Consolidated Schools SAYS, “We apologize for any confusion and problems this has caused. The school district takes full responsibility for this misunderstanding.” The Facebook page has now been deleted.

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