A Moorestown (New Jersey) High School senior, contending that the district superintendent is engineering new rules that would force her to share the title of valedictorian with another student, sued school officials.
The student, Blair L. Hornstine, who aspires to be a lawyer, asked a federal judge to prevent the school from declaring valedictorian anyone other than the student with the highest GPA.
She’d also was seeking $2.7 million – $200,000 in
compensation for her “humiliation” and $2.5 million in punitive damages.
Hornstine has the top GPA at Moorestown. However, the Moorestown Schools superintendent has concluded that other students should be eligible, too, given Hornstine’s status as a disabled student, according to court filings.
The superintendent said Hornstine, who suffers from an immune deficiency that has limited her class schedule, received an unfair advantage over students who took a regular load of classes at school. Hornstine, for example, was exempt from physical education class, which is weighted less in GPA calculations than regular classes.
The superintendent said two other seniors with near-perfect grades could not have earned high enough weighted grades to surpass Hornstine because they are “subject to the rigorous in-school grading standards employed by certain advanced placement teachers.”
“The level field of competition . . . had been compromised,” the superintendent said.
The student’s lawyer, Edwin J. Jacobs, argued in court papers that such a conclusion discriminates against Hornstine, whose illness forces her to study at home for part of the day.
“Not only does the conferral of co-valedictorian inaccurately suggest that Blair Hornstine was not at the top of her class, but under the circumstances under which it is being conferred, it actually raises a derogatory implication that her superior performance is not what it seems,” the lawsuit states.
Hornstine’s fellow students were behind the school, and called her “selfish.” The Philadelphia Enquirer newspaper editorialized, “There’s a saying that everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten. Blair Hornstine of Moorestown must not have been paying attention the day her class learned about playing well with others.”
The paper also wondered what lesson she was learning by suing, questioning, “That overcoming a disability and making it to the top is only worth celebrating if you’re up there alone?”
U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson agreed with Hornstine and ordered the school to name her the sole valedictorian. She said the school violated the girl’s civil rights with its “strange and relentless” effort to discredit her. “If forced to share the award, the stigma would likely be unshakable,” Wolfson ruled. “She would be seen as the disabled valedictorian, not the valedictorian.”
Monetary damages, if any, were not reported.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Student sues over top title,” May 2, 2003.