According to a federal lawsuit, recent high school graduate Olecia James claims she was denied her rightful place as salutatorian of her Mississippi high school’s graduating class so that the district would not cause an issue among the town’s white residents.
In the lawsuit, uploaded for viewing by The Hill, James seeks monetary damages and a change in the race-based policies she says the Cleveland School District used to violate her rights to equal protection under the law.
James graduated last year from Cleveland, Miss.’s brand-new and recently integrated Cleveland Central High School as part of its inaugural class. Until recently Cleveland had two separate high school, one for white students and another for Black students. In her suit, James says she had the second-highest grades in the graduating class, but that the honor of salutatorian was given to a white male student with lower grades.
According to the suit the district made the decision, “to prevent white flight.” Apparently, the district was nervous about how white people would react if Olecia James’ name was announced as salutatorian.
According to James, in their attempts to justify giving the white boy her salutatorian spot, district officials changed her grades on her school records to make it seem that they were lower.
They soon apologized James says, but still presented the white student as salutatorian. They justified their decision giving more educational weight to the classes he had taken at the historically white high school over the ones James had taken at the historically black high school.
School district officials had no comment when contacted by the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.
Attorney Lisa Ross, who represents James, told the Clarion-Ledger what should be obvious to anyone:
“These positions that are set aside for students who work hard and do well, they should be awarded on who does the best,” Ross said. “And it should be done without consideration as to whether whites will leave the school district if their kids are not selected for awards.”