High School Claims 'Calculation Error' Kept Black Students From Top Honors

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Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple both achieved a major feat by graduating from high school this spring. Unfortunately, their celebratory moment was soured by a growing controversy surrounding their high school's administrative policies.

A few weeks ago, Washington and Temple were named valedictorian and salutatorian of this year's graduating class at West Point High School in Mississippi. Having worked for this moment for years, both young, Black women were overcome with joy and happiness.

“It was a beautiful and proud moment to witness two young, Black ladies standing side by side given such honors,” West Point NAACP Anner Cunningham told the Chicago Tribune.

Just a few days later, West Point High School doubled back on their decision to name Washington and Temple as valedictorian and salutatorian. Citing a potential "calculation error," school officials decided to name two valedictorians and two salutatorians for this year's graduating class. Two white students, Emma Berry and Dominic Borgioli, would join Washington and Temple as co-valedictorians and co-salutatorian.

The decision to name two valedictorians and salutatorians stemmed from the school's senior awards night when Washington and Temple were first named valedictorian and salutatorian. At the awards ceremony, Ikeria Washington's mother, Angela Washington, claims that she overheard Berry plotting to question the decision to name the two Black students as valedictorian and salutatorian. Dominic Borgioli's mother, Melissa Borgioli, also claimed that her son "worked his butt off this year" and expected to be in the top two.

“I can’t say it without sounding like I’m bragging about my child, but he owned the awards day. Hall of fame, top this, male athlete with the highest GPA,” Borgioli explained.

After the awards ceremony concluded, Emma Berry's father, Shawn Berry, began looking through the school's handbook. He raised issues regarding how the school determined who the top two students would be. Washington and Temple emerged as the two students with the top-weighted GPAs. However, Borgioli and Berry emerged as the two students with the top unweighted GPAs. In short, Washington and Temple were initially recognized for not only having astoundingly high GPAs, but for also taking dual credit and AP courses.

“Anybody in education knows that a weighted GPA signifies that a student has taken more rigorous courses than a student with a 4.0 GPA,” attorney Lisa Ross added.

After reviewing the school's handbook, the Berrys and Borgiolis met with West Point School Superintendent Burnell McDonald. During the meeting, McDonald allowed two missing grades, which a teacher had failed to record in the system, to be added to the final grade in one of Emma’s classes. McDonald also made the final ruling to make Emma Berry and Dominic Borgioli co-valedictorian and co-salutatorian on the night before graduation. From there, news of the decision spread throughout the small, northeastern Mississippi town.

Citizens around town accused the school of making the decision based on race and privilege. Not only were the new co-valedictorian and co-salutatorian both white, but Emma Berry is also the descendant of the co-founder of Bryan Foods, once West Point’s largest employer. Several buildings across the small town, including the library, are named after the Berry family.

Making matters worse, McDonald nor the school's principal called the school to let the Washingtons or the Temples know about the change. The families of both students learned about the change through social media.

“They had no intention of telling us,” Lanika Temple said.

“They were just going to have us show up at graduation. If it was truly a mistake, you contact the students and the family. They didn’t have enough respect to tell us. I feel it was underhanded.”

Taking things a step further, the Washingtons and Temples have enlisted the help of Lisa Ross and are considering a lawsuit.

“Every year around graduation, I get calls from parents who are concerned that their children are being cheated out of valedictorian and salutatorian,” Ross explained.

“Race is really still a big struggle in Mississippi.”

Despite the controversy, the school's graduation went off without a major issue. With that said, Layla Temple introduced herself as the "true" salutatorian. McDonald also attempted to offer an apology.

“Bottom line, school board, I apologize,” McDonald told the crowd.

“You charged me with doing what I really believe is right by your students despite race, color, socioeconomic, whatever. God knows when I make a decision for kids, my heart is for kids and doing the right thing. So I ask you, please, for tonight, let’s make our graduates feel special.”

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