The parents of the just-named valedictorian and salutatorian left the ceremony, aware that Emma and her father were upset, but thinking nothing of it. Over the next day, however, the parents of Emma and Dominic did their own homework.
“We found the 2020-2021 handbook,” Mr. Berry said. “It all came down to the handbook.”
At issue was just how to calculate who the top two students were. Ikeria and Layla won based on a calculation of quality point average or Q.P.A., a system of calculating grades that gave extra weight to advanced placement and dual credit courses. But, it turned out, Dominic and Emma were the top two finishers based on unweighted grade point average.
The parents of the two white students held discussions with Burnell McDonald, the superintendent of West Point schools. They complained that based on the West Point High School Student Handbook, the school had not followed its own rules in calculating class rank.
After talking with the white parents, Mr. McDonald, who is Black, concluded that the handbook and tradition backed them up: In the school system, class rank has been calculated by unweighted grade point average, not Q.P.A., which would have made the two white students the honorees.
The evening before graduation, Mr. McDonald informed the parents of Dominic and Emma: He was adding the two white students as co-honorees — Dominic was now co-valedictorian and Emma co-salutatorian.
Mr. McDonald also permitted 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, past a deadline and after senior awards night.
Mr. Berry said the grades added for Emma did not change the outcome.
Once the decision was made, race was not the only issue that was raised.