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Blair Hornstine: Reflections on the law suit

Although Blair was dubbed by the media as a spoiled kid and Blair’s father was considered a “manipulator,” neither can be farther from the truth.  Blair’s sole reason to file suit was the unfairness of Kadri’s decision with the support of the Board of Education.  How would you feel if you were involved in an athletic event and won fairly by the rules only to find that the rules were dramatically changed after the game that retroactively affected the winner without any notice to the participants?  Blair always quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, when he said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  If Blair Hornstine didn’t stand up and defend the special education scholar, who would be the school district’s next victim?  The whole case was never about Blair and her need to be valedictorian.  The litigation evolved around fundamental fairness to the federal and state rights of special education students.  Blair never envisioned the media frenzy.  Blair never wanted to be the focus of any attention.  She was merely the conduit for justice.  Just like her involvement in community service, Blair filed this extraordinary litigation to make life a little bit better for all special education children. The school superintendent, Paul Kadri, had other ideas for this special education child.  Kadri wanted to change the rules to fit his target, unfortunately Kadri ended up shooting himself in the foot.

Although Kadri blamed the pressure on unnamed students and parents, he never once named one individual.  The media concluded that Blair didn’t want to share the award.  What the media missed was the fact that Kadri never envisioned Blair Hornstine as one of the valedictorians.  Kadri’s deceit was clear when he contacted the student with the second highest grade point average and advised him that he was under consideration for the award.  It was obvious during the trial that Kadri never contacted Blair Hornstine nor would he have named her as even one of the valedictorians.

To highlight Kadri’s actions of deceit toward Blair Hornstine, one should review the court decision as well as the affidavits supplied to the court by Kadri.  He tried to paint a picture of Blair Hornstine as a child not capable of such a status in the Moorestown community.  Kadri tried to show that Blair’s teachers were not qualified.  Judge Wolfson shot down his argument when it was clearly shown that the Moorestown Board of Education approved each and every teacher.  In fact, most of Blair Hornstine’s teachers were more qualified than the Moorestown faculty.  Kadri then tried to show that Blair was graded differently.  Again, the court found that Kadri was not accurate.  In fact, Judge Wolfson found that at times, Blair was graded harsher.  Kadri then tried to say that Blair Hornstine had an advantage in course selection.  When the court scrutinized Kadri assertions, it was clear that he again was fast and loose with the truth.  The salutatorian had taken more Advanced Placements courses than Blair Hornstine.

What Kadri failed to acknowledge was the fact that Blair Hornstine was entitled to accommodations under both federal and state laws.  Kadri chose to chastise Blair Hornstine rather than acknowledge her as an incredibly bright and determined child.  Judge Wolfson chose the following quote to show her disdain for Kadri and his actions:
            “Kadri makes numerous re-calculations of plaintiff's weighted G.P.A. to reflect hypothetical curricula for plaintiff had she been a non-disabled student and required to take an in-school curriculum. He even provides as an illustration a faux transcript for plaintiff (and assures the Court that the Board does not intend to submit the transcript to any college or university.  The fact that Kadri’s speculative calculation, theoretical curricula, and hypothetical alternative transcript can produce only a .005 difference between the top two students highlights the weakness of defendants' position and the lengths to which Kadri is prepared to go to deny plaintiff sole valedictorian status to appease the Moorestown community. Furthermore, Kadri fails to mention the salient fact that, in reality, Mirkin, who was not afforded any of the accommodations given to plaintiff, nonetheless had a statistical advantage over her in terms of the weighted courses taken by both students.”

The school could have been painting the picture that Blair Hornstine had overcome her disability, volunteered for her own charity, and still worked hard enough to finish at the top of her class.  Instead the school decided to send a message that her disability had given her an academic advantage. Although Kadri asserted that Blair Hornstine’s father was trying to manipulate the system, it was Kadri himself that was the manipulator.  Just look at the manipulated figures that he submitted to the court and the judge’s reactions.

Judge Wolfson continues her critical comments toward Kadri and the school board:
“In his continued effort to denigrate [Blair Hornstine’s] accomplishments, Kadri notes that he has "reviewed the transcripts of the past six valedictorians, and none of those students earned straight A+ grades, like [Blair] received during her junior year." Id. at ¶ 10. [Kadri] is referring to [Blair Hornstine’s] junior year accomplishment of earning an A+ in all ten of her classes. Instead of applauding [Blair’s] achievements, [Kadri] insinuates that since no valedictorian in the past six years was able to achieve grades as high as [Blair] did in her junior year, then [Blair’s] success must be due to some unfair advantage….If the Board were to name another valedictorian along with [Blair Hornstine], it would be sending the message loud and clear: "we have two valedictorians this year--a disabled one, and a non-disabled one."

This final quote from the case summarizes the Judge’s concerns:
“In summary, it appears that Superintendent Kadri and the Board initially attempted to appease the interests of some parents and students in the school community by reviewing [Blair Hornstine’s] academic history to confirm that [Blair] had fairly earned the valedictorian award. In so doing, however, [Kadri and the School Board] adopted the assumption that somehow [Blair Hornstine’s] disability and accommodations have given [Blair] an academic advantage over other students. They have lost sight of the fact that [Blair Hornstine], unlike her peers, suffers from a debilitating medical condition, which has never been disputed by the Board, and that [Blair’s] accommodations were aimed at putting her on a level playing field with her healthy classmates.  [Kadri and the School Board] should revel in the success of their IDEA program and the academic star it has produced; instead they seek to diminish the honor that [Blair Hornstine] has rightly earned.

            I want to make clear that the evidence in this case has shown that [Blair] Hornstine earned her distinction as the top student in her class in spite of, not because of, her disability.”

National radio star Michael Smerconish had this to say on Blair:

“Her suit earned her ridicule and scorn.  Published reports say her house was egged and sprayed with graffiti.  Death threats were received.  And her disability was the subject of more urban legends than Area 51” 

He admits at first that he believed Blair was in the wrong but decided to do what many hadn’t, looked at the facts not accepted the rumors. Smerconish concluded that Blair was correct in standing up for her rights.

            If you ask Blair today whether it was all worth it, to the surprise of many she would give you an emphatic yes.  Blair’s litigation has been nationally acknowledged.  It has been cited by other state and federal cases a number of times.  Succinctly stated, it was never about Blair Hornstine becoming the sole valedictorian; it was only about fairness to the disabled in accordance with the law for which she was willing to fight and suffer the consequences.

            It is interesting to note that neither Moorestown Board of Education nor Paul Kadri ever did change the policy on selecting the valedictorian.  Judge Wolfson indicated that they could change their policy, so long as its enforcement was not applied retroactively.  Perhaps, Blair Hornstine was correct.  The Board and Kadri only wanted to victimize Blair and not change the rules for any other reason.

 

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