Thursday, June 3, 2004

CRISFIELD, Md. (AP) — The family of a high school student on Maryland’s Eastern Shore says administrators conspired to prevent her from becoming school valedictorian by inflating the grades of another student.

Claiming that administrators discriminated against 17-year-old Jenny Evans because she is from the isolated watermen community of Smith Island, the family filed a complaint Wednesday in Somerset County Circuit Court seeking an injunction against the naming of a valedictorian yesterday and $100,000 in damages.

Despite the complaint, administrators yesterday named senior Sara Grosky the valedictorian of Crisfield High School. Attorney Sherwood R. Wescott, who is representing Jenny, said the family will ask the court to “rectify” the injustice.

The complaint says Crisfield High School Principal Debra Josenhans instructed six teachers to change Sara’s grades, elevating her grade-point average. Miss Josenhans and Karen-Lee Brofee, Somerset superintendent of schools, are named in the lawsuit.

Sara is not named in the complaint, which does not claim wrongdoing on her part, Mr. Wescott said.

Miss Josenhans and several teachers at Crisfield High School declined to comment last week on the charges and referred questions to the superintendent’s office.

Miss Brofee said she investigated the complaint and determined the school district’s records policy was not violated, though some grade corrections were made.

“There are people who make mistakes with numbers. Appropriate corrections were made that were needed,” said Miss Brofee, who did not specify which grades were adjusted.

Jenny said she was contacted several weeks ago by two Crisfield teachers who admitted that they were forced to make the changes.

Jenny said she decided to take legal action after recent meetings with Miss Brofee and Miss Josenhans failed to yield results.

The court declined to grant an immediate hearing Wednesday, leaving Somerset County school officials with 30 days to respond to the complaint, Mr. Wescott said.

Valedictorian programs and class-ranking systems have been second-guessed in recent years, with some school districts on the Lower Shore — and throughout the country — finding less competitive ways to recognize student academic achievements.

Last year the Wicomico County Board of Education approved a policy that eliminated class rankings in favor of a three-tier cum laude system.

Miss Brofee said she intends to meet with school board members in the coming weeks to review the district’s valedictorian policy. Though the class-ranking system is intended to motivate students, this year’s valedictorian dispute reveals how emotional the process can be, she said.

“We’re going to look at how valuable the program is,” Miss Brofee said.

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