2021’s Most Boring National News Story is that a high school announced last week that students named, say, A and B were the valedictorian and salutatorian of the senior class, but then people pointed out that the school administration had used the wrong definition of grade point average. According to the published rules for calculating GPA, instead X and Y deserve the honor. So the school decided A and X would both be valedictorian and B and Y would both be salutatorian.
Crisis averted, right?
Wrong, according to the New York Times, which splashed this story from Mississippi heavily. You see, A and B are Black women (soon to be Black Women), while X and Y are lowly whites, so there’s something racistly uppity about X and Y asking that the rules be followed. Don’t they know their place?
After two white families claimed a grade calculation error, a Mississippi school added their children as co-valedictorian and co-salutatorian, reviving questions about race and equity.
By Stephanie Saul
June 11, 2021
At first, it seemed a joyous occasion. There was an audible gasp in the room, then boisterous cheering and applause when the announcement was made: Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple had been named 2021 valedictorian and salutatorian for West Point High School.
The president of the local N.A.A.C.P. in West Point, Miss., Anner Cunningham, smiled as the two young women, both standout students, were photographed. “It was a beautiful and proud moment to witness two young, Black ladies standing side by side given such honors,” Ms. Cunningham said.
But almost immediately parents of other students near the top of the rankings raised questions about who should have been honored. Within days, and breaking with longstanding tradition, West Point High School decided to name two valedictorians and two salutatorians — with two white students, Emma Berry and Dominic Borgioli, joining the Black students who had already been named.
And in the nearly three weeks since that senior awards night, West Point, a mostly Black town in the northeastern part of the state, has been split largely along racial lines, roiled by a dispute that included threats, a potential lawsuit and allegations of racism posted on Facebook.
Officials say that race had nothing to do with the events in West Point, but instead blamed a mistake made by a school counselor resulting largely from a confusion over which of two methods for calculating final grades should have been used.
… In Mississippi, where some public schools once defied federal orders to admit Black students and issues of educational equity are still raw, who gets honored and how can dredge up painful questions that are impossible to disentangle from the state’s racial history. In the past five years, Black women in Cleveland, Miss., about 150 miles away, have twice filed federal lawsuits alleging they had been cheated in their school’s selection of valedictorian and salutatorian.