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Valedictorian's mother wants school system 'held accountable'

Valerie Stephens vows to continue fight

POSTED: February 29, 2012 12:38 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Valerie Stephens, along with Vizion Jones of National Action Network Atlanta, speaks to a small gathering of media in the parking lot of Gainesville High School on Tuesday afternoon about holding the Gainesville City School Board accountable for the way the divisive co-valedictorian situation has been handled.

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Valerie Stephens' son, Cody, is officially the sole valedictorian for Gainesville High School. But Stephens said she is not done fighting the school system.

"Although the parents of the other student have withdrawn their son from being valedictorian that does not mean that the Gainesville City School System or Gainesville High should not be held accountable for the things they have set in place," she said during a 5 p.m. news conference near the school. "They did not uphold, nor did they follow their guidelines; therefore, they should be held accountable for those very things."

The news conference, held Tuesday evening in the lower parking lot near the high school, came after Charlie Bryant, the other student up for valedictorian, asked not to be recognized at the school's graduation. His family released a statement on Monday shortly after the school board announced it would uphold the decision to have two valedictorians. Charlie's and Cody's grades were separated by less than one-hundredth of a point.

"I thank them for finally making that decision," Stephens said. "But I also think they should have made the decision long before now."

Stephens said school system Superintendent Merrianne Dyer confirmed with her Monday afternoon that her son would receive the honor alone, making him the school's first African-American valedictorian.

"It's not something I'm surprised about, because he's always been No. 1," she said.

But holding the school system "accountable" means asking for those who voted in favor of the shared award to be removed - \hor at the very least, voted out of office next term, she said.

"I believe that the principal of Gainesville High School, Chris Mance, needs to be removed from his position. I believe the board members who did not vote the right way to uphold their guidelines that they set in place need to be removed. I believe the superintendent, Merrianne Dyer, needs to be removed. Yes, I believe that."

The only board member, she said, who voted "the right way" was Ward 3 representative Willie Mitchell, who was the only dissenting vote Friday.

School board member Delores Diaz said the board "lived up to (its) commitment" to give the public a decision.

"We need to put this issue to rest," said Delores Diaz, Gainesville City Schools' Ward 4 board member. "The only ones being hurt by it all are the two students involved and the rest of the school. The issues being raised have nothing to do with the two students - they're peripheral issues. ... And the two students involved are having this time taken away from them when it should be their most exciting and happy time."

The vote to uphold the earlier decision to name two valedictorians was taken Friday after an executive session.

Plans called for a meeting on Tuesday, but it was canceled Monday by the school board.

Marcus Coleman, founder of the Atlanta Chapter of the National Action Network, said the decision should have been more public and not done in "secret" on Friday.

"I think it's unfair to the public," he said, adding that his organization is hoping to look into the way the situation was handled by the school system.

"I appreciate (Bryant's) parents' integrity because they seem to have done something that the school board was unable to do."

Federal law prevents school records from being released publicly.

Although Stephens wouldn't say what her plans are, she said she intends to continue to be a fixture at the board meetings and that her "eyes will be on (the) situation."

Efforts to obtain comments from the superintendent and other board members were unsuccessful.

The board will next meet for a work session at 6 p.m. Monday.

 



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