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Kermit girl loses fight with board - Odessa American: Education

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Kermit girl loses fight with board

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Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2007 12:00 am

KERMIT A Kermit High school student fighting to be honored as valedictorian despite graduating a year early failed Tuesday evening when the district’s school board unanimously ruled against the appeal and upheld the current policy.

Dalia Carina Mendoza’s representative argued before a capacity crowd that she deserved to be the high school valedictorian or at the very least the co-valedictorian because she has the highest grade point average in the graduating class.

The board however decided rules are rules and they certainly can’t be changed in the middle of the school year, something that would be unfair to the seniors who have spent four years in the high school.

A clearly disappointed and tearful Mendoza walked out of the district’s administration building and later cried when a school advisor approached her.

“I’m a little bit tired,” Mendoza said.

In a written letter school board members said, “while the district acknowledges and honors the student for her academic achievement and graduating early with a high grade point average, the honor of being valedictorian is reserved for four-year students.”

Kermit district policy states only students in their fourth year of high school who attended the high school for their sophomore, junior and senior years can be considered for valedictorian status.

After Mendoza’s parents agreed to an open meeting the district’s legal counsel John Aldridge argued Mendoza was not in her fourth year of high school nor did she attend her senior year at Kermit High and that in fact she was just a junior.

District policy cannot be changed “this late in the game.” Aldridge argued and said Mendoza in a signed statement acknowledged during her freshman, sophomore and junior years that she read and understood all district policies.

Mendoza carries a 5.1 GPA and none of the board members or Aldridge denied her achievement.

“One thing school teaches us is rules are rules,” Aldridge said.

Odessa attorney Gerald Lopez, who represented Mendoza, said she met the district policy stipulation despite it being vague and contradictory.

“When I was in high school, my teacher was very strict about writing proper English,” Lopez said.

“… If she would have seen this policy — the way it was written — she would have flunked me.”

Later, Lopez argued that co-valedictorian status should be granted to make it fair to both Mendoza and the senior with the best GPA and also to avoid potential litigation if the board ruled against Mendoza.

Mendoza, a single mother to a 2-year-old daughter, previously told the Odessa American she wanted the top spot for the scholarship that the state offers to No. 1 students.

Although it is commonly referred to as the “valedictorian scholarship” the one-year tuition grant is given to the highest-ranking student in the graduation class, according to Texas Education Code.

The TEA issues the certificate that grants the tuition scholarship. However the determination of who is the highest ranking student is a local decision, according to a TEA letter distributed to high school administrators in April.

While representatives of the League of United Latin American Citizens represented Mendoza, the board said, “students’ race or national origin was not an issue in the valedictorian decision.”

Lopez said he would talk with LULAC officials and Mendoza’s family to see if they wish to pursue the matter further, but Mendoza wasn’t sure if she wanted to.

“It’s been a lot of stress, “ she said. “People lose their life in a lawsuit.”

Odessa, TX

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