Olecia James, a Black high school graduate, has filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Mississippi against her former alma mater Cleveland Central High School. Olecia disclosed that she was denied the position of salutatorian — second to the valedictorian — in order for a white male student to hold the title even though her grade point average was higher.
The lawsuit can be read below.
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In 2017, Olecia James transferred to Cleveland Central High School, a new school that was opened after a federal judge decided that Mississippi’s Cleveland School District was still segregating Black and white students in two different schools illegally. The inclusive Cleveland Central High School combined students from East Side High School and Cleveland High School after almost 50 years of segregation.
Olecia claimed she was told by school administrators that her weighted grade-point average would be docked “quality points” earned in courses she had taken at the historically-Black school in the state’s Cleveland School District. In other words, the state curriculum applies to all schools in the district but apparently, the Black school’s education was considered inferior to the former white school’s education with respect to selecting a salutatorian.
She had taken advanced placement classes just like her white counterpart. Her original grade point average was 4.41 — but the white student’s grade point average was only 4.34 and no points were docked from his advanced placement scores. But with Olecia’s reductions, her grade point average had been reduced to a 4.33.
They reached out to the district superintendent, Dr. Jacqueline Thigpen after they challenged Principal Randy Grierson who stated that he didn’t have access to her previous grades and suggested they talk to the superintendent. Thigpen flat out “refused to address the issues and provided no explanation as to why Olecia James’ quality points were stated incorrectly on her grade scripts.”
The young lady and her grandmother, Yvonne Herron, met with the Cleveland School District School Board, which later apologized. Thigpen then gave Olecia a new and corrected grade script. But the damage had already been done.
According to the lawsuit, Olecia James “has suffered the loss of scholarships, loss of opportunities, humiliation, loss of self- esteem, embarrassment, mental anguish, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and other damages to be shown at the trial of this matter.”
She even said that she lost out on a scholarship for salutatorians at the University of Mississippi because she lost the salutatorian status.
“I knew what I had worked for,” she said. “I knew what the other East Side students had worked hard for. To see it taken away was heartbreaking.”
“The defendants, in light of the newly formed consolidated Cleveland Central High School and in their angst to prevent white flight, named W.M., a white male student, as salutatorian of the inaugural class of Cleveland Central High School in 2018, a position he had not earned, and in doing so, discriminated against Olecia James, a Black female who had earned the position,” the complaint reads.
And this wasn’t the district’s first time robbing Black students out of their academic titles. In June, a trial will further determine the case of Jasmine Shepard, “a Black student who sued the district in 2017 after she claimed she was named ‘co-valedictorian’ with a white student who had a lower grade-point average.”