Community to rally over Gainesville valedictorian

by: Tony Thomas Updated:

Cody Stephens

GAINESVILLE, Ga.,None - A community rally is planned later this month for a Gainesville High senior whom supporters feel is being shortchanged on graduation day.

Gainesville High School administrators have ruled Cody Stephens will be a co-valedictorian this year.

His family feels he should be named the sole valedictorian of the class that will graduate in May.

"He has worked hard for this honor and it is an honor. He should be the sole valedictorian of his senior class, and I will fight for that," his mother, Valerie, said.

For his part, Cody said he just wants it made public exactly why the honor is being split.

"I've read that there hasn't been a single black valedictorian in city of Gainesville, so that would be a big deal to other people," Cody told Channel 2's Tony Thomas Thursday evening.

Valerie Stephens said her son has a 4.75 grade point average and has the highest GPA in his class. She said according to the school's own written policy, Cody should be on top.

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But Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Merrianne Dyer said the high school even called in an outside expert to look at the numbers before naming the two students.

In a statement, Dyer said, "The Valedictorian /Salutatorian is a school based award. Gainesville High used its procedures. The awards will be made. The issue is between the parents, student and the school."

Valerie Stephens said she is trying to meet for a second time with the high school principal to sort things out.

"The bottom line is the highest GPA. That student is supposed to be the valedictorian, the sole valedictorian. That's the guidelines they set forth and that's what I want them to uphold. That's the right thing to do," Valerie Stephens said.

As for Cody, he admits the issue is likely more important to his mother than himself. He does worry about the image of sharing the honors, though.

"I just wouldn't want it to be tarnished in their eyes," Cody said.

Supporters of Cody will gather on Feb. 12 at the Antioch Baptist Church on Mill Street in Gainesville for what's being called a "Justice for Cody" rally.

The event will begin at 4 p.m.


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