Failed Valedictorian Sues Teacher Over Bad Grade

LTB logo

In February, shocked and embarrassed about receiving a bad grade in advanced biology, a student at Sissonville High in West Virginia sued her teacher and the county board of education, demanding that the grade be changed.

The grade was a B.  Clearly, litigation was the only option.

This was alleged to be a potential life-ruiner because the student, who was named only as "L.H." in the original complaint but has since been identified in media coverage, and whose name I decided to withhold in order to spare this young person any further embarrassment but, after reflecting on that during the time I was typing the line immediately above this one, changed my mind and decided to go ahead and write "Lindsay Hay," claims that she would otherwise have been the school valedictorian.  Or, at least, that the incident has destroyed her "goal of graduating with the highest honors," since Hay was previously sporting a 4.5 GPA before this scarlet letter B was inflicted upon her.  Hay was offered half credit after her parents and the principal intervened, but this was not sufficient.

The lawsuit charged that the teacher’s action was arbitrary and capricious and was intended to punish Hay by deliberately ruining her GPA (probably by dropping it from 4.5 to 4.45).  Hay originally demanded compensation for emotional distress, "loss of enjoyment of life, [and] loss of scholarship potential," but conceded in March that it was inappropriate to seek such damages in this context.

Maybe someone who previously had a 4.5 GPA and "scholarship potential" should have been smart enough to turn in her leaf project on time.  Hay argued that she could not have turned in the leaf project on time because, since she is a member of the student council, she was on an approved field trip that day and not even in the stupid school to turn in the stupid leaf project, which was stupid anyway.  God!

But Hay conceded that she could have turned in the leaf project a day early, or taken other steps to deal with the conflict, thus dooming her student-council-trip argument. Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom noted this fact in his order dismissing the case, and also said that the lawsuit "appear[s] to invite the judiciary to second-guess grading decisions of professional educators who are traditionally vested with great discretion" in that area.  Under state law, Judge Bloom found that a grade cannot be altered once given, unless it can be shown that a teacher made a mathematical error in calculating it.  "It is not," he wrote, "in this Court’s view, a proper role for a court to assess whether a particular penalty imposed for turning in schoolwork late is too harsh."

Hay seems to have argued that she was not actually asking for her grade to be changed, but that did not delay the judge long, especially given that Hay had previously conceded that it would not be appropriate to seek monetary damages.  "A change in grade is exactly what is being sought," he wrote.  "It is the sole reason this civil action was filed."

The report did not say whether Hay planned to appeal, or whether the experience had convinced her to go to law school in order to help protect the rights of  scholarship-disabled valedictorians everywhere.

Link: Charleston (WV) Sunday Gazette-Mail