Grapvine student with top grades wont be valedictorian

Grapevine High School senior Anjali Datta holds the highest grade-point average of the 471 students graduating from Grapevine High School this year.

In fact, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD officials believe her GPA of 5.898 may be the highest in the high school’s history.

It’s still not enough to make her the valedictorian, which brings a one-year college scholarship from the state.

Her closest competitor’s GPA is 5.64. No one disputes that she’s the top student in her class numerically. The problem rests with another number entirely.

Anjali rocketed through high school in only three years.

But a school district policy states: “The valedictorian shall be the eligible student with the highest weighted grade-point average for four years of high school.”

The dispute over Anjali’s status as valedictorian comes down to interpretation: Does four years mean calendar years of school attendance or does it mean completing the credits it takes most students four years to earn?

It depends on whom you ask.

The 16-year-old started taking high school classes in middle school and says her teachers encouraged her to graduate a year early because she had more than enough credits for graduation.

She said a counselor assured her that doing so wouldn’t affect her valedictorian status because she earned her four years of high school credit in the district’s schools. Officials had no comment about what a counselor may have said.

The policy was created to protect students from others who might transfer into the district close to graduation and usurp the class ranking of longtime students.

Though that’s not the situation in this case, the district’s attorneys interpreted the policy literally.

So at graduation ceremonies, 18-year-old Tyler Scott Franklin of Colleyville will be the Grapevine High School valedictorian.

Anjali will be “Valedictorian – Three-Year.”

District officials said the title was created for this situation.

“We’re doing what we can to extend an additional honor within accordance of school board policy,” said Megan Overman, a district spokeswoman. “I’m not going to say that this has been an easy situation. This is something that is new for all of us. We’ve not faced this situation before.”

Ms. Overman said the district researched the decision for months.

“There was a lot of thought involved in this. There is no perfect answer,” she said.

Anjali says she and her parents are baffled.

“I have not heard of any educational institution penalizing a student for excellence – for completing a demanding set of classes ‘too quickly,’ ” said her father, Deepak Datta. “Anjali’s experience will surely send a strong negative signal to other talented students trying to excel.

“They will most certainly be discouraged from trying to do their best – instead will be more focused on gaming the system.”

On Tuesday, Grapevine High School principal Jerry Hollingsworth notified the family via e-mail of the district’s position that would arrive this week by certified letter.

“The determination of valedictory honor is one that rests squarely on Grapevine-Colleyville ISD board policy,” Dr. Hollingsworth wrote. “In determining an appropriate interpretation of our policy, inquiries were made to both the school district’s attorney as well as an attorney at the Texas Association of School Boards.

“Both were clear in their opinions that this honor should go to a student who has four school years in his or her high school career. We are compelled to adhere to school board policy,” he wrote.

So, Tyler will receive the college scholarship.

His mother, Kathy, said her family didn’t raise the issue with the school district. She said someone brought the district policy to her family’s attention.

“We feel obviously that the other student deserves recognition as well,” she said. “Considering all of the different factors, this was a good solution.”

Anjali says she’s struggling to understand the move because the Texas Education Agency doesn’t even mention the word “valedictorian” when defining eligibility for the college scholarship.

The state provides Texas high schools with an “Honor Graduate Certificate.” The certificate is to be presented to the “highest ranking graduate” in the senior class, according to Texas Education Code.

State officials say it is the local school district’s responsibility to determine the highest ranking student, and the state has no authority to get involved. At graduation June 7, Anjali will be honored for her perfect ACT score. She will be acknowledged as an honor graduate and allowed to address her classmates.

But Anjali said it still doesn’t feel quite right.

“This really diminishes the value of the valedictorian title,” she said.

is this fair?

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