Student sues when her class rank drops after school… | TCTA
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Student sues when her class rank drops after school consolidation

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A student sued a school district after her class rank dropped from second to third when her high school was consolidated with another school.

The student excelled academically, but the consolidation increased the number of students eligible for the valedictorian and salutatorian spots. To complicate matters, both schools involved in the consolidation had failed to follow the district's handbook when calculating GPA for the preceding three years.

The handbook specified that each "regular" course would be calculated using a 4-point scale, each "accelerated" course was worth up to 5 points and each "advanced" course was worth up to 6 points. This formula was not applied uniformly to all students, with the result being that seniors with identical grades in identical courses received a different number of points when calculating GPA for class rank and transcript purposes.

A couple of weeks before graduation, the superintendent discovered the problem with the grades and realigned all transcripts to conform to the handbook. Counselors in the district were instructed to independently review each senior's transcript and flag any errors. The district then revised the transcripts and distributed them to seniors, who could dispute any discrepancies.

The student complained, so the superintendent restored her previous GPA. This resulted in another parent complaining, so the superintendent backtracked and determined that all seniors would receive the same weight and credit for identical courses, consistent with the handbook. After the transcripts were revised and the consolidation was complete, class ranking was recalculated. The student dropped from second to third in the class.

The student sued in federal court, claiming that the district had violated her due process rights as set out in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Her suit was dismissed by the district court and she appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court of appeals noted that a person has a due process right when they have a "liberty or property interest" that has been interfered with by the state.

In this case, the student arguably had a property interest because the state had established a compulsory school system, which creates a property interest in "entitlement to a public education." This property interest is the reason that a student must be given the opportunity for a hearing before being suspended or expelled from school.

However, the issue in this case was how far that property interest extends. Although the student was entitled to participate in the educational process, she did not have a protected interest in the separate components of that process. So, for example, there is no protected property interest in a particular curriculum, attendance at one particular school over another, or participation in extracurricular activities.

In this case, the court of appeals held that class rank and GPA calculation are components of the educational process and do not give rise to a property interest. Therefore, it ordered that the case should be dismissed.