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GHS will have 1 valedictorian at spring graduation
2nd student in co-valedictorian controversy says Stephens should get honor
0228valedictorian Stephens
Cody Stephens

Only one student will be publicly honored as valedictorian when Gainesville High School seniors graduate this spring.

That news came as the second student in the co-valedictorian controversy, Charlie Bryant, asked not to be recognized for the honor on graduation day, according to a statement released Monday by his family.

Instead, the Bryant family requested the community honor Cody Stephens, who is believed to be the school's first African-American valedictorian.

The name of Charlie Bryant had not surfaced before now in the very public valedictorian controversy.

Cody and Charlie were both selected to share the honor of valedictorian, but Cody's mother, Valerie Stephens, has said her son should be the one and only.

Stephens has said her son, Cody, has the highest grades in his class, the requirement to become valedictorian, and is being robbed of what he has earned. The controversy drew supporters of Cody to large public rallies and to school board meetings, where they demanded that the school recognize him as the sole valedictorian.

After Charlie's family released its statement, Valerie Stephens said she would give a statement at 5 p.m. today at Gainesville High. She declined to give immediate comment on the new developments.

The statement from the Bryant family said both Charlie and Cody deserve to have their academic achievements "stand on their own merits" and "not tarnished by controversy."

The Bryants wrote that Charlie and Cody are friends, and suggested both students share the valedictorian honor at school, but allow the community to "lift up Cody's accomplishments as a unifying element to be proudly witnessed on graduation day."

"Because of Cody's unique position of being our first African-American valedictorian, we propose that Gainesville High School utilize the upcoming graduation ceremony to celebrate his, and only his, academic record as valedictorian of perhaps one of the most talented classes that (Gainesville High) has ever produced," they said.

The statement came hours after the Gainesville Board of Education announced that it had upheld a decision by the high school principal to name co-valedictorians, according to a news release.

The board met Friday in executive session to review the procedures used to determine the valedictorian at Gainesville High School. Following that meeting, it was clear that a consensus had been reached, the release said.

"Having reviewed these procedures, the board, with one dissenting member, agreed that the interpretation and implementation of those procedures by Principal Chris Mance ... that led to the designation of dual valedictorians for the Class of 2012 was reasonable and rational," the board release said.

Board Chairman Willie Mitchell was the lone dissenting vote.

"The procedures we have in place ... say that the highest GPA would be awarded the valedictorian," he said, speaking before the family's announcement.

"I heard arguments about B's and stuff like that, but the procedures as I see it ... say the highest GPA. It talks about a numerical grade, not an alphabetical grade."

According to the high school's policy on the matter, the valedictorian and salutatorian honors are calculated after students' first semester of their senior year.

"The valedictorian must have earned the highest grade-point average in his/her graduating class based on the school's consistent use of a weighted scale," the policy states. "The salutatorian must have earned the second highest grade point average in his/her graduating class.

"The grade-point average shall be determined by grades received in all high school classes, including: dual enrollment, Georgia virtual school, accel, summer school and high school classes taken in middle school and high school credit was accepted by the student."

Mitchell could not be reached for comment after the announcement. Also, the Rev. Rose Johnson-Mackey, a longtime local civil rights leader and a staunch defender of Cody Stephens, couldn't be reached.

The board had been scheduled to hold an open meeting Tuesday to rule on the co-valedictorian decision, but that meeting has been canceled.

Instead, it urged residents to put the issue to rest and move forward.

"The board celebrates the success of these two outstanding students and thanks the high school and the community for preparing these and all students for success in life," the release said. "Our mission is to help all students achieve their educational goals, and these two students demonstrate that we provided equal opportunity for all and care about every child."

Superintendent Merrianne Dyer, reacting to the announcement by the Bryant family, said Gainesville High seniors have gone through much over the past six weeks, including the death of a classmate in a car accident and the loss of two classmates' homes in fires.

"When you really look at it in that perspective, they just want peace," she said. "And this brings some peace."

Times staff writer Aaron Hale also contributed to this story.