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«January – March: 2004 The Quarterly Report provides information on recent judicial and administrative decisions affecting publicly funded ...»

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QUARTERLY REPORT

January – March: 2004

The Quarterly Report provides information on recent judicial and administrative decisions

affecting publicly funded education. Should anyone wish to have a copy of any decision noted

herein, please call Kevin C. McDowell, General Counsel, at (317) 232-6676, or contact him by e-

mail at kmcdowel@doe.state.in.us.

In this report:

Valedictorians: Saying “Farewell”to an Honorary Position?......................... 2

• The Valedictorian Competition............................................. 2

• The Content of the Speech................................................ 11

• Religious Content and Student Valedictories................................. 11

• No Child Left Behind Act of 2001......................................... 15

• Alternatives to Valedictories.............................................. 16

• Class Rank............................................................ 16 Childhood Obesity and the “Cola Wars”: The Battle of the Bulge Continues.......... 19

• Congress Weighs In..................................................... 19

• Great Britain’s “Ditch The Fizz” Study...................................... 21

• Other School-Based Initiatives............................................ 22 Driver’s License Suspension and School Attendance: Encouraging the “Road’s Scholar”......................................................... 23 Court Jesters: HORSE FEATHERS!........................................... 29 Quotable................................................................... 31 Updates.................................................................... 32

• Military Recruiters...................................................... 32

• Evacuation Procedures................................................... 38 Cumulative Index............................................................ 41

VALEDICTORIANS: SAYING “FAREWELL” TO AN HONORARY POSITION?

At one time, high school graduation ceremonies were considered more dignified affairs. Schools now struggle with boorish behavior from the audience, pranks that sometimes border on vandalism, and security concerns.

There are also concerns “up on the stage” as well, as competition for valedictorian1 honors, the content of valedictory speeches, and the concept of class rank are all coming under increased scrutiny.

The Valedictorian Competition There is no Indiana law that dictates a high school must select a valedictorian much less how it should be done. This has always been a matter for local discretion and tradition. However, an increasing number of schools are reporting the competition for this scholastic honor has become unhealthy. In 2003, the New Albany-Floyd County Board of School Trustees reported they would phase out the recognition of valedictorians and salutatorians at graduation at the New Albany High School. Floyd Central High School, the school district’s other high school, ceased to bestow these recognitions over 10 years earlier. Beginning with the graduating seniors in the Class of 2006, New Albany will honor the top 10 percent of graduating seniors. New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated Schools has 11,000 students.

“The trend nationally is to do away with valedictorians. There are some issues why but we think it is better to honor the top 10 percent instead of five or six students,” Floyd Central Principal John Marsh said.2 The New Albany superintendent said the changes would standardize practices in the school district’s two high schools. The changes would also “honor achievement while encouraging students to take demanding classes.”3 Some schools don’t give extra credit for more difficult classes, prompting complaints that some students take easier classes to bolster their grade-point averages [GPAs].

At schools where classes are weighted, some complain that students miss out on the benefits of art and music classes because they instead choose honors calculus and 1 “Valedictorian” is derived from the Latin valedictus, “to say farewell.” 2 “NAHS To Phase Out Valedictorian Recognition at Graduation,” The New Albany Tribune (June 30, 2003).

3 “At Issue: Should Schools Name Valedictorians?” The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (July 28, 2003).

–  –  –

The Hemet (California) Unified School District reached the same conclusion. The school board and the high school principal said that competition created an unhealthy educational environment. “If they are not number one, it could get their feelings hurt if they are self-motivating and highachieving students,” Principal Bill Black said. Tom DeSantis, a school board member, added, “Ideally, the valedictorian program should recognize the most successful students or student; but at this point we’re wondering if it’s recognizing the most successful strategist.” DeSantis said students were boosting GPAs by taking easy electives rather than college-level courses. There is also intense lobbying occurring. “Maybe we need to look at an honor society-type recognition where every student who achieves over a certain threshold is honored,” DeSantis added.5 Vestavia Hills High School located near Birmingham, Alabama, maintains a class-ranking system but no longer chooses a valedictorian. Nearly all of its students will attend a four-year college. In 1994, its graduating class of 281 had 33 seniors with GPAs in excess of 4.0, due to greater weights accorded AP and Honors courses. Instead of a valedictorian, the school gives all of the students with GPAs above 4.0 engraved plaques. According to the principal, Michael S. Gross, the system was changed eight years previous because of an intense rivalry. “The competition between the top two in the class was so keen, to me, it got bent out of shape. It wasn’t healthy. It put a lot of pressure on the kids; it put a lot of pressure on the families.”6 Others complain of the “vanishing valedictorian.” Some of the problem is caused by the school itself by determining the valedictorian based on GPA alone, especially where grades are not weighted.





Schools have tried to resolve this problem by weighting the harder honors and Advanced Placement courses.... While weighting provides an incentive for students to take difficult courses, it carries its own baggage. Class ranking can turn contentious.

There are cases in which only a hair has separated the grade point averages of top students in a graduating class. That has led to debates over the difficulty of the courses taken by the individuals involved. In a few cases, the battle for the number one class rank boiled over into the courts when parents who believed their child was treated unfairly by the class-ranking process filed lawsuits against the school district.

*** 4 Id. (observation by the newspaper).

5 “School Board Considers Banning Valedictorian Award,” FOXNews.com (February 24, 2003).

6 “Growing Number of Schools Reject Class Rankings,” Education Week (June 15, 1994).

-3To try to avoid such headaches in the future, school districts have devised a variety of alternatives to the valedictory tradition and class ranking. In some districts, the “vanishing valedictorian” actually is multiplying. One school district named 25 graduating seniors with 4.0 grade point averages as “valedictorians.” But the effect is the same–to dilute the standard of excellence and diminish the stature of those designated as valedictorians. When the school board in Red Wing, Minnesota, terminated the honor of valedictorian and salutatorian for the Class of 2000 and sought a fairer way of honoring students, they decided to designate all students who performed well as “graduates of honor, distinction, and highest distinction.” Other districts have adopted higher education’s system of honoring top performing students and are graduating them summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude.7 How contentious has this been? Intense competition for valedictorian of the Normandy High School Class of 1994 eventually required court intervention. Two students in the Parma, Ohio, school district were embroiled in a battle for the honor. A school counselor advised one student that he could raise his “quality point” average and surpass the top-ranking student if he enrolled in certain summer and evening classes. The other student caught wind of this and, with her family, appealed to the school district’s superintendent. He gave her the opportunity to accumulate more “quality points” through independent study. Sixty-eight (68) teachers signed a petition decrying the arrangement. When the dispute spilled over into the school board meeting, the school board decided not to name a valedictorian at all. This did not set well with the aspirants. Legal action was initiated. The judge ordered the district to select a valedictorian. Eventually, the school board named both students as co-valedictorians. Unfortunately, the dispute “left emotional scars in the middle-class Cleveland suburb,” according to one report. One of the students had her house pelted with eggs and there were threatening phone calls. Her father, commenting on his daughter’s being named co-valedictorian, observed, “It was a bittersweet recognition.”8 A more contentious recent dispute, played out on the national stage, was the battle over who would be the valedictorian for the Class of 2003 for Moorestown High School in New Jersey. Hornstine v. Township of Moorestown et al., 263 F.Supp.2d 887 (D. N.J. 2003) involved a student identified by the school district as disabled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Her Individualized Education Plan (IEP) contained a number of academic accommodations. After seven semesters in Moorestown High School, she had the highest weighted GPA in her class. More than two-thirds of her classes were Advanced Placement (AP) or Honors.

She scored a 1570 out of a possible 1600 on her Scholatic Aptitude Test and had been accepted into Harvard University. Because of health problems that caused “substantial fatigue,” her educational program was a “hybrid” one in that she attended morning classes at the high school but received the 7 “Valedictorians and Class Rank: Headed for Extinction?” Parent Power! Vol. 2, Issue 5 (June 2000).

8 “Trends: A New Order,” Teacher Magazine (August 1, 1994).

–  –  –

The School Board’s policy, as reflected in the student handbook, stated that the graduating “senior student with the highest seventh semester [weighted GPA] will be named the valedictorian, and the student with the second highest seventh semester [weighted GPA] will be named the salutatorian.” According to the School Board’s policy then in effect, Hornstine “should be named valedictorian of her class for the graduation ceremony...since she has attained the highest GPA.” Id. at 892.

But that’s not what happened. The local superintendent sought to change the policy to allow for multiple valedictorians and salutatorians. The impetus for this was, in part, the superintendent’s belief the Plaintiff, because of the academic accommodations in her IEP, was realizing an “unfair advantage” over other students, resulting in “fundamental unfairness” that he sought to correct.

Sentiment was apparently running high in the community towards Plaintiff and her father. The superintendent was allegedly told the “father intended to manipulate the special education laws to ensure that his daughter became valedictorian.” Id. at 891-92. The superintendent described the father as an “overzealous parent” who wanted to ensure his daughter did not suffer “the same embarrassment” he suffered when he was “merely the salutatorian of his graduating class.” Id. at

892. Although the superintendent and father disagree as to what exchanges occurred during their meetings, it was evident that there was considerable disaffection between the two.

The superintendent became inordinately interested in the homebound portion of Plaintiff’s educational program. He requested a review by the school’s physician as to whether her condition merited homebound instruction, refused to permit the Plaintiff to drop a class, and conducted impromptu meetings with school personnel regarding her IEP, the nature and extent of her disability, GPA, and valedictorian status. The homebound instructors were required to “validate and verify” her educational curriculum. No such inquiries were made of the curriculum for other homebound students. Id. at 892-93.

Beginning in January of 2003, the superintendent made public his intention to have the School

Board’s policy amended to read as follows:

In determining the recipients of [the awards of valedictorian and salutatorian], the Board may review the program of study, manner of instruction, and other relevant issues, and in its discretion, with the assistance of the administration, may designate multiple valedictorians and/or salutatorians to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to compete for these awards.



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