Fort Bend ISD students re-awarded salutatorian and valedictorian spots after claims of ‘unfair’ graduation policy

May 14, 2024: Valedictorian and Salutatorian rankings are being restored at two Fort Bend ISD high schools after an investigation into class ranking policy. (hxdbzxy, Getty Images)

An uproar over “zoned” students outranking students who actually attend Fort Bend Independent School District high schools means some seniors will get their valedictorian and salutatorian rankings restored.

That reversal is happening at Marshall and Willowridge high schools, where initially, students zoned to the school were given the top 2 academic rankings based on the GPAs they’d earned at other schools.

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In a statement to KPRC 2 reporter Holly Galvan, the district said they were adjusting ranks at those two schools after a thorough assessment.

“The current policy states class rank for high school students is established based on the campus where a student is zoned. Beginning with high school students in the class of 2028 and beyond, the campus of accountability and class rank will be the campus where the student received instruction,” the statement reads.

How we got here

Fort Bend ISD’s class ranking policy has stirred controversy as students find themselves ranked alongside peers from different schools, prompting concerns about fairness and equality. Community advocates are worried about its impact on college admissions and scholarship opportunities.

According to the FBISD FAQ, students in the classes of 2024 to 2027 will be ranked based on their home address zoning, while those in the class of 2028 and beyond will be ranked according to their attending campus.

The community and students have reacted strongly to learning their rankings, especially when valedictorians from their own schools were displaced by students who are zoned to the same school but don’t attend.

The class rankings warriors

David Hamilton, an FBISD Board Member, emphasized the detrimental impact on the class of 2024 and urged immediate action for future classes. Hamilton told KPRC 2 that while he doesn’t speak on behalf of FBISD or the FBISD School Board, he was sharing his personal opinions as an FBISD parent, a taxpayer, and a school board member.

Hamilton said FBISD Board President Judy Dae saw this coming before most people realized how it would play out,

RELATED: Controversy arises over Fort Bend ISD’s class ranking policy

Hamilton explained how Dae wanted to be on the policy committee to reverse the 2019 ranking policy changes, and the board president at that time, Dave Rosenthal wanted to put her on that committee. Another board member also wanted to be on the committee, and according to Hamilton, agreed to make the ranking policy changes an urgent priority if Dae would step aside.

According to Hamilton, those changes never happened and then Dae, in 2023, forced the issue onto the agenda for a board meeting.

“Thanks to that action. . .we finally reversed the bad decision that was made in 2019 to rank students where they are zoned rather than where they attend. But the many delays in doing so until last summer meant that the graduating classes from 2024 through 2027 will be harmed by the 2019 policy changes,” Hamilton explained. “This is due to the administration recommendation in both 2019 and 2023 not to have ranking policy changes go into effect until all current high school students have graduated.”

See more: Fort Bend ISD coverage

Dae recalled how she spoke at the board meeting in Dec. 2019 as a community member strongly against implementing this policy because she believed it would put many students in an unfair position.

“Since being elected to the board, especially after May 2022, I urged the former superintendent and the policy committee chair multiple times to bring this policy forward for board review knowing the students and the parents would soon realize the impact of this policy,” Dae said. “In April of 2023, after a year passed since I began asking for the review of the policy, and after having received hundreds of emails criticizing the policy, Trustee Rick Garcia helped me place the item on a board agenda so I could make a motion to direct the former superintendent to work with the policy committee to review the ranking policy and make recommended changes to the board in August.”

The administration made a recommendation in Aug 2023 for the policy change, starting with the incoming 9th-grade class, Dae explained.

“The administration recommendation was based on the consideration that current high school students had already made campus and course selections in reliance upon the policy that was in effect at the time. Unfortunately, other considerations of fairness required the board to phase in the policy change and the class of 2024 was not able to benefit from it,” Dae said. “This policy is dear to my heart because I understand its impact on our students. I will not be on the board to review this policy again, but I surely hope the new board and the new superintendent will take another deeper look in the very near future.”

As Hamilton put it, the class of 2024 students who have been harmed by the ranking policy were not primarily harmed due to ‘recent policy changes’.

“They were harmed primarily due to 2019 policy changes and due to delays in correcting those decisions until the summer of 2023 - coupled with the decision last summer to delay corrective actions until current 8th graders graduate in 2028,” he said. “I recently found out that we could have made the corrective changes effective immediately, but the administration recommended against doing so in part due to fears of potential lawsuits from students who had the rules changed on them after they had made decisions that could have been impacted by this policy.”

SEE ALSO: Hidden dangers: Inappropriate relationships between teachers and students uncovered on school campuses

According to Hamilton, Dae was right from the start and should be viewed as the hero on this issue.

“The board likely will not make any changes to the ranking policy for the class of 2024, although the allegations of students using illegitimate addresses - at least some of which have been confirmed - can and should be addressed by the administration immediately,” he said. “But I am hopeful we can appropriately respond to community feedback and the pain caused by the 2019 policy changes by making the 2023 policy changes effective for the class of 2025 and going forward instead of delaying until the class of 2028.”

About the Author

Holly joined the KPRC 2 digital team in March 2024, leveraging her eight years of expertise in blogging and digital content to share her passion for Houston. Outside of work, she enjoys exploring the city's vibrant scenes, all while balancing her roles as a wife and mother to two toddlers.

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