Two Black high school students in Mississippi are reportedly having to share their prestigious honor with their white classmates.
According to Mississippi Today, West Point High, which is located in the eastern portion of the state, is facing backlash for changing its class ranking system after it announced Ikeria Washington as valedictorian and Layla Temple as salutatorian for the Class of 2021 on May 24. On Thursday (June 3), the school wrote that it recognizes students with both the highest Quality Point Average (QPA) and Grade Point Average (GPA).
Washington and Temple reportedly had the two highest QPAs while two other white students had the highest GPAs, resulting in four students being recognized.
“The two students with the highest QPA are Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple. The students with the highest GPA are Dominic Borgioli and Emma Berry,” the school wrote in a Facebook post before deleting it, Mississippi Today reports. “The WPCSD feels it necessary to recognize four seniors at graduation.”
After a white parent questioned school officials about whether they were following guidelines in the school handbook in determining the top students, superintendent Burnell McDonald stated that the high school guidance counselor was given incorrect information about how to determine which students would be named valedictorian and salutatorian. He said Washington and Temple qualified based on quality point average rather than their grade point average. Rather than replace the two Black students, the two white students were added.
“(The parents’) argument was that based on our handbook, we should’ve been using semester averages,” McDonald 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.”
He continued: “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.”
On the other hand, Angela Washington and Lakira Temple, the mothers of the Black students, had questions.
“I’m still baffled,” said Washington, according to MT. She told the newspaper she and Temple had a meeting with the West Point High School principal, an assistant superintendent and McDonald at lunch on the day of graduation. In that meeting, Washington says McDonald told how the school has made its calculations in the past, and that her and Temple’s daughters would be ranked first and second.
“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,” said Washington, who has requested a meeting with the school board this month.