United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division
OPINION AND ORDER
M. BROWN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
High School named two co-valedictorians of its 2016
graduating class-Jasmine Shepard, who is African American,
and H.B., who is white. Shepard, believing she would have
been named sole valedictorian but for racial animus, filed
this action against the Cleveland School District, Jacqueline
Thigpen, and Steven Craddock, alleging under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 equal protection and due process violations. The School
District and Thigpen, in her official capacity, have moved
for summary judgment; and Thigpen and Craddock, each in an
individual capacity, have moved for summary judgment. Because
Shepard has failed to establish a basis for liability under
§ 1983 with respect to the defendants, the motions for
summary judgment will be granted.
is entitled to summary judgment when “there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). Rule 56(a) “mandates the entry of summary
judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion,
against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
their consolidation in 2017, Cleveland High School and East
Side High School, both located in Cleveland, Mississippi,
operated separately in the Cleveland School District. Doc.
#186-2 at 72. Cleveland High has been referred to as the
“white high school.” Id. at 12. East
Side High historically was “majority black.” Doc.
#180-1 at 8. In 2017, both high schools closed and were
consolidated into a single high school-Cleveland Central High
School. Doc. #186-2 at 72. Cleveland Central is now the only
public high school in Cleveland. Id. at 72-73.
to consolidation, Steven Craddock was Cleveland High's
principal and is now assistant principal at Cleveland
Central. Doc. #186-2 at 72. Jacqueline Thigpen has been the
superintendent of the School District since 2008. Doc. #180
respect to its 2016 graduating class, the School District
named two co-valedictorians. Doc. #190-6 at 2. One was
Jasmine Shepard, who is African American. Id.; Doc.
#177-1 at 57, 66. The other was H.B., who is white. Doc.
#190-6 at 2; Doc. #177-1 at 71-72.
Relevant School District Procedures
Rank Points and Class Rank
School District's Student Handbook set forth the
procedure for valedictorian determination:
The Grade Point Average (GPA) used to determine final senior
ranking for each student shall be calculated by dividing the
total rank points accumulated by the total semester credits
If A TIE EXISTS using the procedure above, then the student
with the higher numerical average computed by dividing the
total numerical average for all semester credits earned by
the total number of semester credits earned will be accorded
the higher ranking.
If A TIE STILL EXISTS, then the student with the higher
number of grade points will be accorded the higher ranking.
If A TIE STILL EXISTS, then there shall be a tie in the final
Doc. #183-8 at 14.
purpose of class rank, during the time period relevant to
this case, classes at Cleveland High were designated
“regular, ” “accelerated, ” or
“advanced.” Id. An “A”
earned in a regular class was worth four rank points; an
“A” earned in an accelerated class was worth five
rank points; and an “A” earned in an advanced
class was worth six rank points. Id. The Curriculum
Guide, which provided the designations for classes,
defined regular classes as classes that were not accelerated
or advanced. Doc. #183-7 at 9.
Online Course Policy
and Lisa Bramuchi, the School District's Assistant
Superintendent for Curriculum Assessment and Instruction,
incorrectly believed that during the 2014-2015 school year,
the School District was authorized to offer online courses
for credit that would count toward students' graduation
requirements. Doc. #180-1 at 77; Doc. #185-2 at 41, 42.
Although the School District permitted at least two students,
one of whom was H.B., to enroll in an online course for
credit,  it did not broadcast or announce this
option was available. Doc. #184-1 at 65. The Curriculum Guide
in effect at the time the two students enrolled in an online
course for credit did not contain information regarding
online courses. See id.; Doc. #183-7.
Transcript Errors and Access to Online Courses
H.B.'s Rank Points
took Human Anatomy & Physiology (“Human
A&P”) and online Physics during the 2014-2015
school year, earning an “A” in both courses. Doc.
#213-4 at 1; Doc. #130-1 at PageID 697. Her Human A&P
course was designated as accelerated, which resulted in five
rank points. Doc. #130-1 at PageID 697. Her online Physics
course was designated as advanced, which resulted in six rank
applicable Curriculum Guide, Physics I was designated as an
accelerated class; Physics II was listed as an advanced
class; and Physics and Human A&P did not appear under
either category. Doc. #183-7 at 9. For the 2014-2015 school
year, Human A&P was designated at Cleveland High as
advanced in some records and accelerated in
others. None of the entries for Human A&P at
Cleveland High reflected the designation in the Curriculum
Guide for 2014- 2015, which was regular. See id.
time of her deposition, Thigpen believed Human A&P was an
advanced course but was unable to locate it in the Curriculum
Guide's list of accelerated and advanced courses. Doc.
#181-1 at 155; Doc. #180-1 at 108. Bramuchi testified that it
was not a regular course and that the Curriculum Guide was
incorrect in listing it as a regular course. Doc. #185-2 at
Kemp was the School District's MSIS Coordinator
from 2010 until the summer of 2018. Doc. #190-3 at 18, 19.
Her job was to “make sure [the system] calculates the
weights it's supposed to calculate.” Doc. #185-2 at
60; see Doc. #130-4 at 4. Kemp understood this to
entail ensuring that the points for each course were accurate
according to the Curriculum Guide. Doc. #190-3 at 95.
However, she did not consult the Curriculum Guide to
determine whether she was assigning the correct weights to
courses during the relevant time period. Id. at 112.
three different grade reports run by Kemp on April 22, 2015,
she designated Human A&P as advanced, then regular, then
accelerated. Doc. #190-4 at 116-17. She could not explain why
the same class was designated as three different course
types. Id. at 117. According to Kemp, the weights of
courses “roll over” automatically from previous
school years, but that they were “rolling over
wrong.” Id. at 118; Doc. #190-3 at 52, 61.
designating H.B.'s Physics course as advanced, Kemp
consulted the Mississippi Department of Education's
course codes instead of the Curriculum Guide. Doc. #190-3 at
104- 05. Thigpen testified that Physics was an accelerated
course because Physics I was listed as accelerated in the
Curriculum Guide and that H.B. should have received 5 rank
points for her “A.” Doc. #181-1 at 154. Bramuchi
testified that Physics was an advanced course but that the
Curriculum Guide erroneously designated it as an accelerated
course. Doc. #185-2 at 65-67.
Online Physics and Desktop Publishing Courses
was unaware she could take online classes until she consulted
Alyson Jones, a white guidance counselor at Cleveland High.
Doc. #187-4 at 13-14, 153; Doc. #188-3 at 26-29. H.B. told
Jones that she was enrolled in a biology course she did not
want to take, and asked whether there were other options to
earn quality points. Doc. #188-3 at 27. Jones informed H.B.
that she could take online Physics during her study hall
period. Id. at 31. J.W., another white Cleveland
High student, was also given permission to take the online
course. Id. at 36.
did not know she could take an online course. Doc. #130-2 at
99. Shepard attempted to consult Jones about her schedule but
could “never find her because she would never be in her
office.” Id. at 35. Shepard relied on the
Curriculum Guide, which did not contain information about
online courses. Id.; Doc. #184-1 at 65.
Shepard was enrolled in Human A&P, she informed Jones she
wanted to be placed in a different course because it was
listed only as a “four-point course, ” which
would have actually lowered her GPA even if she received an
“A, ” and that she wanted to take courses that
awarded more rank points. See Doc. #130-2 at 38.
When Jones “didn't do anything for a few days,
” Shepard informed her mother, who wrote Jones a letter
with a request to remove the class from Shepard's
schedule and enroll her in “an elective, study hall, or
office monitor” for that period. Id.; Doc.
#125-2 at 1. Shepard's mother explained in the letter
that “[Jasmine] has too much on her plate” and
that “I want Jasmine to be challenged with rigorous
courses, but I do feel that she is burdened by the current
schedule.” Doc. #125 at 1-2. Jones removed Human
A&P from Shepard's schedule and placed her in Desktop
Publishing, which Jones knew Shepard had already taken and
passed. Doc. #130-2 at 38; see Doc. #187-4 at 62. It
was contrary to the School District's practices for a
student to receive credit for a course she had already
completed and earned an “A.” Doc. #185-2 at
48-49. When Shepard voiced her concern to Jones about
re-taking a class she had already passed, Jones responded,
“Well, there's nothing else I can do for you. Just
sit in the class.” Doc. #130-2 at 38. Shepard was told
that she would not receive an additional grade. Id.
testified that she re-enrolled Shepard in Desktop Publishing
because it was the only class available in that period and
did not inform Shepard that online Physics was an option
because Shepard's mother had indicated that Shepard was
overloaded. Doc. #187-4 at 62. Jones knew Shepard's race
at the time. Id. at 53. At the end of her junior
year, Shepard discovered that she had in fact been given a
grade for re-taking Desktop Publishing but did not inform the
teacher or Craddock. Doc. #130-2 at 78.
Naming of Co-Valedictorians
in May 2016, SAMS calculated the averages that were used
to determine Shepard's and H.B.'s class ranking. Doc.
#127-2 at 111. One of Cleveland High's guidance
counselors notified Craddock that SAMS had produced a class
rank report in which two students' cumulative weighted
QPAs were tied. Id. at 95-96. Craddock took the
report to Thigpen, and they reviewed it together.
Id. Thigpen “looked at the class rank report,
saw two students on there with the same GPA, same QPA,
verified that they were the same, and … said, [i]t
appears as if we've got two valedictorians.” Doc.
#180-1 at 89. The two valedictorians were Shepard and H.B.
Craddock nor Thigpen attempted to determine whether the
correct number of rank points had been assigned to the
courses in H.B.'s transcripts or Shepard's
transcripts. Doc. #184-2 at 12; Doc. #127-2 at 101. Craddock
did not have access to students' grade scripts at that
time. Doc. #127-2 at 98. While it was Thigpen's
responsibility to ensure that the information in SAMS and
MSIS was correct, she did not verify the information in
Shepard's and H.B.'s grade scripts because she
“trusted people to have done their job.” Doc.
#180-1 at 91. It was not customary in the School District to
manually re-calculate students' GPAs to verify class
rankings. Doc. #187-4 at 112.
the commencement ceremony at which Shepard and H.B. were
announced as co-valedictorians,  Shepard's mother
wrote a letter to the School District and Thigpen challenging
“the Co-Valedictorian Classification and Senior
Ranking.” Doc. #178-4. Thigpen responded to the letter
on June 7, 2016, requesting that Shepard's mother
“provide specific information” regarding what
policies were violated, how they were violated, and by whom.
Doc. #179-1. Thigpen stated that “[a]fter this
information is ...