Judge Rules Hornstine Is Sole Valedictorian

A disabled member of the class of 2007 will probably be the sole valedictorian of her high school’s senior class after a federal judge ruled Friday that last-minute efforts by the school superintendent to give the award to multiple students were discriminatory.

Blair Hornstine ’07 attained the highest grade point average (GPA) in her class at Moorestown High School in New Jersey.

But school officials tried to allow other valedictorians with slightly lower GPAs. They argued that Hornstine had an unfair advantage because her disability allowed her to be graded by home tutors who had little communication with the high school’s teachers.

In response, Hornstine brought suit against the district, asking the court to give her sole title to her school’s top honor—and $2.7 million in damages.

U.S. Federal Court Judge Freda Wolfson’s final ruling was in favor of Hornstine—reaffirming a preliminary opinion issued in early May.

Wolfson did not rule on the issue of damages.

The judge’s findings met widespread disgust in Moorestown, where residents sent a flood of letters to their local newspaper denouncing Hornstine as “selfish, unappreciative” and “whiny.”

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Hornstine residence has been splattered with eggs, paint balls and spray-painted obscenities.

Today, police cars sat outside the Hornstine residence to guard against the kind of vandalism that has made life “very ugly” for the family, said Steven K. Kudatzky ’72, who is close to the Hornstines.

Blair Hornstine’s father Louis, a New Jersey Superior Court judge, has also become the target of derision.

In the local paper, an editorial cartoon printed May 15 depicted a grinning Louis Hornstine using the dress of a statue of Justice to polish his shoes.

Hornstine and a few of her friends have resolutely defended her actions.

“The issue here is the rights of the disabled—not who will be the valedictorian,” Hornstine wrote in a statement.

Allie McGuigan, a high school senior who said she was close to Hornstine until the two grew apart, said she is not inclined to believe Hornstine’s denial.

“The whole time I was friends with [Blair] I never heard word of any physical problems. From what I’ve seen and heard, I don’t believe she has a disability that really prohibits her from going to school,” McGuigan said. “And I’m not sure whether it’s all her, or whether it’s her father. Knowing her and knowing her father, I think he owns this situation as much as she does.”

In a written statement, Hornstine said she made her decision to litigate on her own, without pressures from her parents, and “with much sadness.”

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, it remains unclear whether Hornstine will attend graduation.

Last Wednesday, Moorestown high school students met to determine how they will conduct themselves if Hornstine attends the ceremony.

Rumors that some students were planning to disrupt Hornstine’s valedictorian speech precipitated the meeting.

“People have the right to express themselves, and we wanted people to express themselves in a way that’s respectful, but also in a way that lets them voice their opinion,” said student body president David M. Toniatti, who will also attend Harvard in the fall.

The students said the majority view at the meeting was to decline applause after Hornstine’s address in order to show disapproval for her actions.

Toniatti said that senior class officers plan to release an official statement to the media announcing their class’ decision on how to conduct itself when Hornstine speaks.

He said the statement will also include a tally of positive accomplishments of their senior class.

“We’re just trying to give people a better idea of what our school’s about,” Toniatti said. “For better or worse, our school isn’t all about the lawsuit. There’s a class graduating, and we want to celebrate that.”

—Staff writer Elizabeth W. Green can be reached at egreen@fas.harvard.edu.