Director of Schools stands behind no co-valedictorians rule
A Grundy County High School student was arrested Thursday night for allegedly harassing another student.
After the school released the names of top students last Monday, parents and students questioned the naming of the valedictorian, a junior graduating a year early.
In naming the student as Valedictorian, it knocked other GCHS students out of the running for valedictorian and salutatorian, honors that come with monetary scholarship offers. The senior expecting to be named valedictorian had been told as recently as December by the GCHS guidance office that she was ranked number one in the class and she included this information on her college applications.
After vocalizing his opinions on the matter, and supporting his senior classmates, Trevor Sanders was called into Principal Deidre Helton’s office. Sanders made an audio recording of his conversation with the principal and Vice-Principal Adam Floyd. During the meeting, he received three days of in school suspension for his comments.
Sanders later posted the audio recording of his meeting with the principal and vice-principal, along with an open letter to Grundy Countians.
“This is the problem at Grundy County High School,” said Sanders in his letter. “Speaking out against a decision is ‘harassment,’ and exercising my 1st Amendment right to my opinion is ‘insubordination.’ The administration at Grundy County High School no longer seems to care about student experience. The only things that matters to Deidre Helton and Adam Floyd are test scores and sports headlines. Meanwhile, if you’re just a regular student, you can expect to be met with hostility if you express any dissent against their rule. Civil Servants, funded by your tax dollars, act as autocrats with almost zero checks to their power.”
Sanders went on to give readers more information on the situation:
“A member of the Class of 2019 has earned the ability to graduate early. Despite that she was never competing with the seniors, she was given valedictorian for the Class of 2018. Many seniors, myself included, did not think this was fair. I’ve vocalized my opinion, stating that ‘Seniors were robbed!’ and making jokes about ‘#NotMyValedictorian.’
“Other than these humor-derived remarks, I’ve also had logical discussions with other students on both sides of the situation. However, because a handful of students were ‘offended’ by my words, I was sent to the office and written up for harassment. I received three days of ISS for showing dissent with the administration. No derogatory, insulting, or objectively offensive remarks were made toward the student who was named valedictorian. My problem is, and has always been, with the decision to consider her for the honor. Her early graduation is enough of a reward; valedictorian should go to the student who has worked the hardest for four years, rather than a student who took the shorter way with credit recovery.
“I don’t think that the girl should have Valedictorian taken from her. I feel that she never should have been considered for it, but what is done is done. Now, the sensible option would be to give this student and the highest-average senior co-valedictorianships. The third ranked student would be given salutatorian. This not only eliminates the tension between the junior girl and the senior class, but also gives another student the honor to speak on stage.”
Sanders was arrested on the same day he made the above post. The warrant, requested by the father of the junior, states:
“Trevor Sanders has been harassing my daughter at school and putting post (sic) on facebook (sic) regarding the situation at school. My daughter has gotten valedictorian and I want this to stop. I have a copy of the video for review.”
While the arrest warrant does not state specific times or events, the corresponding police report includes more details to substantiate the warrant. The police report has not been released because the name of the junior valedictorian, a juvenile, is on the report. Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum says the warrant is valid and proper procedure was followed.
“In this situation, you have a parent that felt the necessity to protect his child and was entitled to due process through the court system. The judicial process for obtaining and serving a warrant was followed correctly,” said Shrum in a statement on Monday to the Herald.
Four years of hard work
The Herald spoke with Lindsey Layne, the sister of Kristin Weaver, the senior who earned her place as valedictorian through four years of hard work. Layne had a prepared statement which she shared with the Herald. In it, she states:
“I am the salutatorian’s sister and legal guardian. Our family’s stance on this issue is that she was bumped down from the position of Valedictorian, which she rightfully earned with years of hard work, by an unfair and unprecedented situation.
“She has worked very hard to EARN the title of Valedictorian of the Class of 2018. She was replaced by a student that is not a member of her class and who we feel had an unfair opportunity to graduate early. This is highly upsetting as my sister was not given the option or opportunity.
“We feel that a special privilege was allowed for this student and it was not offered to my sister or the other members of the Class of 2018.
“The Grundy County School Board policy is that there can be only one Valedictorian and one Salutatorian. We recommend that the Grundy County Board of Education take action and change this policy now due to the unfair and unprecedented situation that arose from one student being offered opportunities that the rest of the Class of 2018 were not offered.
“We feel that changing this policy to allow two Valedictorians this year would rectify the situation. It would allow both students to share the title of Valedictorian and it would also bump everyone up in the rankings to the position they rightfully EARNED to begin with.
“There is a Grundy County School Board meeting on April 12, at 6 p.m. with a workshop at 5 p.m. The Board of Education can act on this matter then and we highly recommend that they do so. It is only fair to the members of the Class of 2018 who are suffering for a situation that was not created by them.
“We recommend that any parents or students affected please contact your board members and show up on April 12, so that your elected representatives can hear your concerns regarding this matter.”
Weaver was told by the GCHS guidance office in December that she was ranked number 1 in the senior class. This is an important distinction as college applications ask for a student’s rank. What happened between December and last week to drop her to the number two spot?
The Herald was informed by a school board member that a lawsuit was threatened by the parents of the junior who was named valedictorian last week. This threat may have played into the decision to name the junior valedictorian.
Layne says her sister is an excellent student who has worked diligently to be named valediction. Weaver has not missed a day of school since Kindergarten and is a three sport athlete, in addition to taking dual enrollment courses.
Another factor that may have led to the naming of the current valedictorian is how courses are weighted. A source told the Herald that college courses automatically add three to five points to a student’s final grade. Not so with regular high school courses. If this is true, the standards for determining the valediction come under question. It would be impossible to evenly weight the scores and grades of the two students.
As many students, parents, and community members have stated, the situation could easily be solved by naming two valedictorians this year. But, according to a statement released on Monday by Director of Schools Jessie Kinsey, that solution does not look promising.
“Grundy County High School must follow school board policies and the student handbook when calculating student ranks for graduation,” stated Kinsey.
“There is nothing in Tennessee law, the current school board policy, or the student handbook that would prohibit any student from graduating early and being ranked with the class in which they are graduating. In addition, the GCHS student handbook states on page 40 that ‘There will only be one valedictorian and salutatorian recognized for the graduating class. If necessary, due to a tie, quality point average will be used to rank students.
“According to student handbook records, this allowance of only one valedictorian and one salutatorian has been in place since 2012. Although some may disagree with the board policy and the student handbook with regards to student ranks, GCHS Administrators are bound by the policies as written. All students who have been recognized as a part of Academic Honors Scholars of 2018 have worked diligently to earn this distinction and I applaud their efforts,” concluded Kinsey.
Who is Trevor Sanders?
Trevor is a member of the Class of 2018. Before attending GCHS, he was a student at Monteagle Elementary School. As a graduating senior, Trevor scored a 32 on his ACT. The average for Tennessee ACT scores is 20.1.
Trevor is also a recognized student leader at GCHS. He is a four-year member of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and serves as president of the club this year.
On Monday, Trevor’s lawyer made a statement to the press. In the statement, he said, “Our client has never harassed anyone, but he has been critical of the school board. Such criticism is constitutionally protected speech. We intend to pursue all of our client’s rights and ensure nothing like this will ever happen again.”
A school board meeting is scheduled for Thursday night. At the meeting, the board has the option to address this issue.