Destiny Brannon’s valedictorian speech at DeSoto High School in Texas on May 31 struck some familiar themes. She thanked God and her family, and she asked for a moment of silence for two classmates who had died.
But she also didn’t mince words. She said the school district, about 20 miles south of Dallas, had endured a “troubling” year, with its “subpar teachers” and emphasis on sports over academics.
That last point drew loud applause and cheers, and, according to her mother, Samantha Brannon, her speech had been approved by the school’s principal.
But on June 19, said Ms. Brannon, who is a secretary in the counselor’s office at the school, officials there met with her and told her that Destiny’s class ranking had fallen to No. 3 following an investigation.
Ms. Brannon says she believes the change was made because of Destiny’s speech.
Not so, according to the DeSoto Independent School District, which includes DeSoto High School. The district attributed the change to a mistake that resulted in rankings being made without including spring semester grades — something officials said had never happened there before.
“All of the things that she mentioned were not new or shocking to the district,” said Tiffanie Blackmon-Jones, director of communications for the school district. She added that the district has been working to address some of the concerns Destiny raised in her speech.
Ms. Brannon, who believes her daughter was penalized because she told her truth and the speech “rubbed a lot of people the wrong way,” said that the recalculated rank jeopardized a scholarship of about $10,000 that covers the first year of tuition at the University of Texas at Austin.
Ms. Brannon said that a conference call between university officials and her family about how Destiny’s change in rank will affect her scholarship was set for Thursday.
While the university cited federal law in declining to comment on Destiny’s individual situation, it said in a statement on Tuesday that it was “working directly with this student and her family to meet her needs.”
In the meantime, a GoFundMe campaign for Destiny, 18, had already surpassed its $25,000 goal — a factor that may solve the financial matter at stake.
Ms. Blackmon-Jones, the school district spokeswoman, said in a phone interview this week that the investigation into the rankings began after transcripts were checked before being mailed to students and their families after graduation.
That’s when administrators discovered the mistake.
“As soon as we found out, we reached out to both of the families affected,” Ms. Blackmon-Jones said, adding that the new valedictorian’s family wanted to handle the matter privately.
Some school employees have lost their jobs as a result of the mistake, she said, and others have been reassigned in light of the “isolated incident.” She did not specify how many people were involved.
As a result of the mistake, the district said in its statement, it has created a new system for verifying student academic rankings.
Destiny said being named valedictorian gave her parents something to be proud of and relieved some financial burden. But after being showered with publicity from the school district, being told later that her standing was no longer accurate hurt, she said.
“If they would’ve told me before graduation that I wasn’t valedictorian, then it would be a very different story,” she said. “It’s just embarrassing.”
Ms. Brannon said she had thought about how speaking up might leave her without a job. But she said that Destiny came first.
“I believe in her, and I’m going to stand up for her,” Ms. Brannon said. “My child did nothing wrong but go to school and work hard.”