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Her high school teacher said she ranked third in her class. So I went to court.

Daly Sullivan looked directly at her computer camera and began taking her case to a judge. She referenced texts, emails, and policies that she pulled from the student handbook at Alpine High School. It alleged that the school made mistakes in tabulating point averages: classes and exams that should have been included were excluded and vice versa. Sullivan won the Lincoln-Douglas Debating Championships, and in her first year, was a member of the Mock Experience Team. But she is not a lawyer. Aged 18, she graduated from only public high school in the small town of Alpine in West Texas just a week ago, which is why she was on court at first. “This proves that regardless of the GPA contest outcome, and regardless of how many times the school recalculates the GPA,” Sullivan told the judge during a hearing on Friday, “I am sure that I will never be a top student, even if I get it.” Subscribe to the newsletter The Morning of the New York Times school. Officials said she ranked third in her class. Sullivan disagreed. She was unable to find a local attorney who would agree to take on her case. A company in Dallas told her it would cost her, but she estimated the case could cost her 75,000 Dollars – much more than she can afford. Instead, she found out how to write a warrant application and represented herself at the 394th District Court of Texas. She believed her GPA could, in fact, be higher than one or both students before her, which would make her worth The surname salutatorian or even valedictorian. She and her parents had protested her rank over the past month, and claimed that the school intentionally did not invite her to an award ceremony where the top students were honored. The school district said it calculated her grades over and over, and every time Sullivan was still ranked third. In a statement Friday, school officials refused to discuss the allegations raised by Sullivan, saying the district “is not free to discuss the individual student.” “Although we respectfully disagree with the allegations in the lawsuit, we take the concerns of students and parents very seriously and will continue to address the student’s concerns,” the statement said. It is not entirely uncommon for disputes over senior positions in high school graduation classes to escalate into litigation. Competition for such prizes can be fierce, even harsh, and zero-sum losses. And in the struggle to be the superior, there’s more at stake than just bragging rights. In Texas, higher-ranking high school graduates can receive free first-year tuition fees at public institutions within the state. Sullivan and her parents were inspired by last year’s case in Pecos, Texas, about 100 miles from the Alps, where the two Taliban claim to be superior students amid confusion over a “flaw” in school schedules. A student – who has professional legal representation – filed a restraining order and filed for an injunction barring Pecos High School from naming the superior student. After Sullivan is unable to hire a lawyer, her parents are disappointed but willing to drop it. But she refused. She obtained advice and records from the family on the case in Pecos, using the petition in this case as a guide to begin writing her petition. Her parents – her father, a farmer; Her mother, who is conducting the forensic interview – read it and helped her arrange the language. “We’re not even close to being lawyers,” Sullivan said. In the Alps, a town of about 6,000 people in Big Bend, Texas, some people who know Sullivan said they were surprised she’d take over. There are other ways to spend the last summer before college. (She plans to attend Charleston College in South Carolina and major in biophysics with the goal of entering medicine.) But she was always serious about the school and little about her determination. “She’s really going to college, and she really has scholarships,” said Teresa Todd, a local government attorney who is an old friend of Sullivan’s mother and children at an age close to Sullivan. “I worked hard for this, and I think all kids deserve to know where they fall in the click order.” “Children should showcase their work,” Todd added. “Why shouldn’t the school have to show their work?” She said she gave some advice to Sullivan before hearing it: “Be yourself. Be respectful. Don’t let the other side take you away from your game.” Sullivan admitted to some of the tension before the hearing, especially after school district attorneys cited a slew of legal precedents and were filled with terms she was not familiar with. But she was generally confident. She said, “I have all the evidence.” “I have all the facts. Nobody knows that as well as I do.” All kinds of cases are brought up in District Court No. 394, whose jurisdiction covers nearly five provinces in size with the nation’s smallest nine states combined. The court hears criminal cases, divorce proceedings, and now a brawl over high school grades. Judge Roy B. Ferguson has a reputation for making court decisions. His courtroom was famous in February when a video of a lawyer trapped behind a filter went viral that made him look like a mysterious white cat at a hearing at Zoom around the internet. (“I am not a cat,” the attorney said.) Ferguson found a sense of humor in him. He added a reference to the unexpected episode on the court’s website and accepted an invitation to discuss it at a seminar on remote judicial hearings in Poland. In a recent criminal lawsuit, when a lawyer apologized for the vocal complications, Ferguson replied, “You’re not a cat, so you’re one step ahead!” With Sullivan, he was patient and explained the procedure in a way that he wouldn’t have to do with a specialist. When she asked a very broad question, encourage her to narrow down. (He often presides over high school mock trials, among them the Texas state case v. Luke Skywalker.) Kelly Kalcharr, the attorney representing the school district, argued that Sullivan did not exhaust the district grievance process. She said, “We do not believe that the court has jurisdiction in this case, and all parties should be excluded.” It also raised objections to much of the evidence Sullivan wanted to include, saying it was rumor or questioning its relevance to the case. Ferguson agreed in several cases. “Okay, Mrs. Sullivan, are you ready to provide evidence in support of your claim?” Ferguson said. “You bear the burden of this temporary injunction here.” Sullivan brought her case. Of her final script, she said, “It’s not an accurate reflection of my high school career so it really caused irreparable damage.” She wanted an independent review of the grades of honors graduates. You didn’t get that on Friday. Ferguson ruled that the conflict must go through a grievance process in the school district. However, the case was not closed. The judge told her that if she was not satisfied with the outcome, she could go back to court. This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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