VALEDICTORIAN INTRIGUE AT DULANEY Parent's bid to enjoin outcome is spurned

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Former Baltimore Colt Stan White went to court this week in a bid to force Dulaney High School to name his daughter co-valedictorian of her class, claiming that negligence by school officials allowed Amanda White to be edged out by another student, Angela Lee.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Joseph F. Murphy refused to issue the order on the grounds that he had no jurisdiction, and the family has since decided to drop the issue.

But papers filed in the case charge that school officials at the highest levels participated in the intrigue over the girls' long-standing academic rivalry, at one point agreeing to keep Amanda's attempts to regain her top-ranked status a secret from her ultimately successful rival.

The suit alleges that Superintendent Stuart Berger participated in a meeting last fall in which school officials gave Amanda special permission to take a night school course in "Music Perspectives" that would give her enough extra credits to restore her top class ranking, then agreed to keep the information from Angela so that she would not do the same.

But the suit charges that Dr. Berger later discussed the situation with a group of teachers and with the student member of the county school board.

School officials later gave Angela special permission to take a night course so she could retain her top rank, the suit alleges.

School administrators maintained silence on the issue yester- day. However, school board member Hilda Hillman expressed amazement when informed of the allegations.

"I can't believe Dr. Berger condoned such a thing," she said. "I find it hard to believe any school official would be involved in it. I'm going to ask some questions, because if that's what happened I want to know it."

Dulaney Principal Thomas R. Hensley refused to comment on the competition between the two girls, citing pending litigation. "Dulaney's graduation is going to take place on Sunday," he said.

Dulaney's guidance director, Wendy Mopsik, also refused to comment.

Dr. Berger, asked yesterday about the lawsuit, said, "We're not going to comment on that."

Mr. White, a WBAL talk show host and attorney, said yesterday that he and his wife would not pursue their lawsuit any further.

"I would say it's all over now," he said. "Mandy's been through enough. To subject her to any more wouldn't be fair at this point in her life."

'She's still No.1'

"In everybody's mind, she's still the No. 1 ranked student and class valedictorian," he said. "That's not to take anything from Angela Lee. But everybody in school knows it. They know who should have been ranked No. 1."

At Dulaney's senior awards ceremony last night, where she accepted the valedictorian's trophy, Angela declined to comment directly on the issue.

"Basically, Mr. Hensley [the principal] did not want us to talk about it," she said. "He thought it would cause factions in the school. Graduation is supposed to be a happy time. We don't want controversy."

According to Amanda's father and others who know her, Amanda White is a fierce competitor in everything she does. She is a three-time All-Metro Runner of the Year in cross country and a two-time Runner of the Year in track. She won this year's Kinney National Cross Country Invitational and the national indoor two-mile and one-mile indoor events. She is also a member of the U.S. Junior National Swim Team, ranked nationally in the breast stroke and and individual medley.

A straight-A student who took an all-gifted-and-talented track at Dulaney, she will attend Stanford University in the fall.

"It's all coming from Mandy, that's for sure," her father said of Amanda's competitive spirit. "She is not one that needs to be pushed. Everybody who knows her or sees her run knows that. The way you punish Mandy is not let her swim or run."

According to court papers and Mr. White, Amanda entered Dulaney four years ago, determined to graduate as valedictorian -- first in her class.

Quality points

In Baltimore County, the honor is awarded based on a "quality point" system calculated by a combination of grades and the difficulty of the courses taken. Class scheduling is critical. For example, an A in a gifted and talented English course is worth more quality points than an A in an honors or regular English course.

Students can also improve their chances of achieving a higher class rank by taking summer and night school courses.

Amanda had earned all A's since sixth grade, her father said. "I stayed in contact with different guidance counselors the whole time so she didn't get out-scheduled. I wanted to make sure she had a level playing field so she could earn the rank of valedictorian."

Valedictorians in Baltimore County are not required to give a commencement speech. The rank is strictly honorary.

Why was the goal so important to Amanda?

"Because she's a competitive person," Mr. White said. "She takes great pride in what she does, and that's the reward that's out there for [academic] excellence. Everything she does, she tries to be No. 1."

Told she was first

Late last spring, Dulaney officials calculated her class rank, and Amanda was assured that she was first in her class of 388 students and that there would be no need for her to take summer courses.

She would have been willing to take the courses, Mr. White said, if necessary to stay ahead of her closest competitor -- Angela Lee.

"They [Dulaney guidance counselors] advised her to drop a physics course for a biology course, because it had more quality points and that would solidify her position. But she didn't have to go to summer school."

But that advice turned out to be wrong, the Whites allege. Dulaney officials had miscalculated Amanda's point count and in fact she was trailing Angela. Worse, unknown to the Whites, Angela did attend summer school and by fall outranked Amanda. According to the suit, the Whites launched a series of meetings with school officials, starting with Dulaney guidance counselors and ending in a meeting with Dr. Berger, Mr. Hensley and Ms. Mopsik.

The school officials apologized for "unfortunate mistakes," the suit alleges, and Dr. Berger advised the Whites they could take their case to the board of education, "but he was convinced that would do Mr. White no good," the suit states. In the end, Mr. Hensley, the Dulaney principal, would resolve the situation, Dr. Berger said, according to the suit.

"I know Dr. Berger, when we had the meeting, was appalled at the way competitions can get out of hand like that," Mr. White said. "I don't know if he was going to try to change things, abolish class rank. . . . The system needs to be examined."

Compromise agreed

In the end, Mr. White said, in order to avoid a lawsuit then, the three officials agreed to a compromise in which Amanda would be given "special permission" to take a night school course to recover the credits she had lost.

Amanda took the night course in music perspectives, he said, while continuing to carry her regular load of gifted-and-talented courses, and training four hours a day in track and swimming.

The suit alleges further that Ms. Mopsik, Mr. Hensley and Dr. Berger "assured the Whites that they would keep this resolution confidential and that no one outside the room would be told. Of course it was important for Amanda and her family to keep this confidential."

The secrecy was needed because if Angela found out, she, too, could take a night course and hold her top ranking.

The Whites allege, however, that Dr. Berger leaked the information. As a result, they charge, Angela found out. When she asked for permission to enroll in night school, she got it and ended the year first in her class. Amanda finished second, two points behind her rival.

In the suit filed Wednesday, the Whites sought an injunction to force Dulaney to name the two girls co-valedictorians. If not, Amanda would suffer, "severe, immediate and irreparable damage," the suit said.

"It's not the other girl's fault," Mr. White said. "Obviously she did a very fine job. She took the courses and used the system to her benefit. It was Amanda who paid the price for the school's mistake, and the schools refuse to own up to their mistake and take responsibility for it."

Asked whether parents or school officials should be encouraging this sort of fierce academic competition, Mr. White said that summer school and night school courses should not be included in the rank calculations.

But otherwise, he defended the competition.

"Like any sporting event or anything else, you give everything you have to try to win the prize and do it within the rules of the game," he said. "The problem was they changed the rules on her, or told her the wrong rules."

"The only negative about the story is the mistakes the school made and their reluctance to take responsibility for them," he said.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
54°