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Gainesville High's valedictorian split draws fire

School defends selection after 1 mom’s objections

POSTED: February 3, 2012 11:19 p.m.

Controversy is already brewing about Gainesville High School's 2012 valedictorian selections before the school has even released its decision.

Two students have been selected to share the honor of valedictorian, but the mother of one says her son should be the one and only.

Valerie Stephens says her son, Cody, has the highest grades in his class, the requirement to become valedictorian, and is being robbed of what he has earned.

"They are disregarding the fact that he has the highest GPA," Stephens said. "I'm looking for him to get what he deserves and that's to be the sole valedictorian in his class."

The burgeoning controversy is drawing attention in the community. A group of residents backing Cody Stephens are planning a rally Feb. 12 at Antioch Baptist Church in Gainesville to support the student.

Supporters believe he would be the first African-American selected as valedictorian of the school, and that sharing the title would diminish that honor.

However, his mother said her complaint isn't motivated by skin color.

"I don't think it's a race issue," she told The Times. "I think it's an integrity issue. That' all it is. (School officials) aren't upholding what they are stating in the guidelines."

Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said school officials followed guidelines in selecting the honor, even bringing in an outside consultant to review the process.

She said co-valedictorians are not uncommon for schools. In fact, she said, many schools have moved away from bestowing the honor.

However, Dyer said she couldn't talk about the specifics of the process because student grades are private.

"It's inappropriate for me to discuss it with anyone but the parents," she said. "It would be a violation of the privacy of the student and the student records."

The school has not released the name of the other student up for valedictorian.

According to selection guidelines given to Stephens by the school, co-valedictorians are selected for one of two reasons: a statistical tie in GPAs calculated "to the fourth place beyond the decimal point" or because one of the top students has transferred credits to the school.

That could create a situation where there may be fewer total courses and differing denominators to calculate GPA.

Valerie Stephens is adamant her son was told he had the single highest GPA.

Cody said he has not transferred and did not believe the other student named co-valedictorian has transferred into the school, either.

For his part, Cody said he's "not really disappointed" about sharing valedictorian status, though he still doesn't know why the honor was split.

The Gainesville senior remains laid-back over the issue. During an interview with The Times, he kept a math workbook open and occasionally jotted notes by equations.

In the fall, he'll go to Atlanta's Emory University on a full scholarship, where he plans to study creative writing.

Cody said he was partially motivated to keep his grades up - earning at cumulative 4.7538 GPA - to become the first black valedictorian.

Cody will be honored as STAR student at the Gainesville City Schools board meeting on Monday. His mother said she'll be in attendance and may speak up about the valedictorian controversy.



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