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 Article of Interest - Court Decisions

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Judge Reaffirms Opinion in Valedictorian Case
A strongly worded ruling formalized judge's order that Blair Hornstine is Moorestown's only valedictorian.

by Jennifer Moroz, May 31, 2003, Philly Inquirer

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CAMDEN, NJ - In a scathing 43-page opinion, a federal judge yesterday formalized her order barring officials at Moorestown High School from awarding the title of valedictorian to anyone but Blair Hornstine. U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson's written opinion, which expands on an oral ruling she issued May 8, castigates school officials and community members for trying to discredit the achievements of a disabled 18-year-old student by making her share the top honor "in the name of rectifying an imagined injustice." School officials, led by Superintendent Paul Kadri, have argued that Hornstine - who had the top grade-point average in her class and near-perfect SAT scores - had an unfair academic advantage over her peers because of a district-approved schedule that allowed her to take many courses at home with tutors. In a case that has drawn national attention, Hornstine, an aspiring lawyer who plans to attend Harvard University in the fall, sued to block school officials from changing their policy at the last minute to allow for multiple valedictorians. Under current rules, the student with the top GPA is the valedictorian. The district called its attempt to name more than one valedictorian a move to even the academic playing field.


Wolfson called it an act of clear discrimination. "They have lost sight of the fact that [Hornstine], unlike her peers, suffers from a debilitating medical condition, which has never been disputed by the [school] board, and that her accommodations were aimed at putting her on a level playing field with her healthy classmates," Wolfson wrote. "The defendants should revel in the success of their [special-education] program and the academic star it has produced; instead, they seek to diminish the honor that she has rightly earned." Wolfson  did not stop there, suggesting that the district's proposed policy change allowing the school board "to review the program of study, manner of instruction, and other relevant issues" in its selection of valedictorians - could have excluded Hornstine from the top honor.

She pointed to a letter from school officials to Kenneth Mirkin, the number-one student in the regular curriculum, indicating he would "certainly" be considered for the valedictorian spot. Hornstine, Wolfson noted, never received such a letter. Kadri did not return several phone calls seeking comment yesterday afternoon. John Comegno, attorney for the school district, declined comment, saying he had not had time to review the opinion.

But it was not just school officials Wolfson accused of unfairly targeting Hornstine. She scolded community members for jumping on the bandwagon in a case that has made an outcast of an 18-year-old girl who may not even attend graduation June 19 amid rumors that her classmates will boo or turn their backs. It was based on complaints from parents and classmates that Kadri, new to the school district in the fall, launched an investigation into Hornstine's medical and academic record. Much of the community has sided with Kadri, who in court documents painted Hornstine's father, state Superior Court Judge Louis F. Hornstine, as an overzealous parent who would go to great lengths to make sure his daughter was the top student in her class. Locally, Wolfson's order bars the school district from amending its policy on valedictorians to apply to this year's graduating class. Hornstine sought the order to prevent the school board from acting before her federal discrimination lawsuit against school officials could be heard. No hearings have been scheduled in that case. In preliminary court filings, Hornstine wrote that she would seek $2.7 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the district. But Jacobs said yesterday that that figure was not "definitive."


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