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PSJA senior wins valedictorian suit

The Monitor

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March 26, 2007 - 5:48PM

EDINBURG — She’s back at the top of her class.

Yanira Ramos, the PSJA senior who sued the district claiming guidance counselors’ miscommunication knocked her and other honors students from their rightful class ranks, won a temporary injunction Monday.

93rd state District Court Judge Fred Hinojosa ruled that the district’s policy, which according to top administrators allowed students in the Distinguished Achievement Program (DAP) to take college-level courses to help their grades through April, was not followed. Most students in the program had been led to believe that college courses would not count toward their grade point averages after a December deadline.

Class rank this year will be calculated using only those college courses taken before the end of the first semester.

Ramos, a migrant student, was surrounded by friends and classmates in the courtroom, since many DAP students appeared alongside her on the witness list. According to her lawyer Carlos García, 31 DAP students had filed grievances over the grading policy.

“It’s an honor to be named valedictorian and graduate at the top of your class,” Ramos said after the hearing. “I’m very happy.”

There was no indication the district would appeal the court’s decision, and a trial date in the case isn’t set until June.

The court’s decision, her lawyer pointed out, had a cash value for her and her family. A state scholarship program pays for a valedictorian’s first year of college tuition at a state university. She is still deciding between Texas A&M University at College Station and the University of Texas-Pan American.

PSJA board attorney Gus Acevedo said that changing the board-approved policy on GPAs and class rank was unfair to students who had correctly understood the rules of the program.

Several weeks after Ramos’ lawsuit was filed, counselors received a memo informing them that district policy allowed them to accept grades for class rank through April, according to testimony. Before that, they had made announcements to the honors student group reminding them to turn in their outside course grades by December.

Ramos said she chose to pursue legal action after meeting with PSJA High School Principal Rene Ramirez about the problem.

“He was not very supportive,” she said. A family friend referred her to García, who took the case for free.

Ramos’ parents, who speak very little English, said they could follow the proceedings somewhat and were proud of their daughter.

Ramos rose to first in her class by the end of her junior year “in spite of every economic disadvantage you can imagine,” García said.

“She was told that the race ended in December … but some students were tipped off” that they could keep taking South Texas College “minimester” courses into the spring semester, he said.

Other college courses, including those at UTPA, stretch past the April grading deadline and cannot be considered for rank, but STC’s minimesters, which the district began accepting for credit last year, are shorter courses and fit within the time limit.

Acevedo argued that Ramos needed to go through the district’s administrative grievance system, acknowledging that process could have stretched into the summer.

The district followed its published policy, whether or not counselors misinterpreted it, he said.

“It may not have been fair, but it did not rise to a cause of action,” Acevedo said.

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