The board of Atlanta Public Schools voted Monday to allow individual schools to have multiple valedictorians and salutatorians under “special circumstances.”
The issue arose when a student transferred from a school that was recently closed to a new school. Under the district’s old policy, the student wouldn’t be eligible for valedictorian status because the district only allows for one valedictorian per school.
The board had previously allowed schools to have two valedictorians or salutatorians only if the top students had identical grade-point averages.
Superintendent Erroll Davis said several parents have questioned the validity of some valedictorian and salutatorian appointments. Those parents pointed to recent allegations of grade tampering that led an Atlanta high school principal to resign two weeks ago, and the notorious APS cheating scandal that culminated Friday with Fulton County indictments against 35 educators, administrators and others.
Davis said several parents have been known to send their high school seniors or home-schooled students to a school with low standards midway through the year in hopes that their child will secure the top spot. The superintendent also pointed out that the University of Georgia gives automatic admission to valedictorians, and several businesses give full scholarships to valedictorians and salutatorians.
“There’s a lot more involved here than just an honor being named,” Davis said. “It’s a very sensitive and, quite frankly, contentious issue at the school level. We’re dealing with a lot of those school issues now.”
The board postponed approving a resolution that would ask the state for permission to increase class sizes at Atlanta schools. Several board members wanted to get more public input on the action.
The meeting was preceded by an hourlong public comments session in which parents lambasted board members for the fallout from the APS cheating scandal, and suggested ways to improve low academic results.
“There has been a travesty in our community,” said Shawnna Hayes-Tavares, a parent in the district. “We believe that travesty and shame rests on the leaders of APS. The children need your attention. What lessons have we learned here? What have we done differently?”
Davis and board chair Reuben McDaniel emphasized their commitment to focusing on the district’s goals of educating its 50,000 students and supporting the “95 percent of employees who were not involved” in the cheating scandal.
“We believe the system is moving forward but not at a pace we prefer,” Davis said. “But healing is difficult, especially when considering the gravity of the indictments released Friday.”