July 26th, 2011
04:56 PM ET

Valedictorian sues school: Was she snubbed because of race?

A recent high school graduate from Arkansas is suing her school district, claiming it refused to recognize her as the school's sole valedictorian because she is black.

Kymberly Wimberly, 18, earned the highest grade point average in McGehee Secondary School's 2011 graduating class. She did so as a young mother, according to the complaint she submitted to the U.S. District Court for Arkansas' Eastern District. She was named the school's valedictorian and then later given co-valedictorian status with a white student who had lower grades, her complaint says.

Kymberly Wimberly

No legal response has been filed by lawyers for the school district or any other school or district representatives, according to court officials. Superintendent Thomas Gathen said he has yet to be served with any sort of court documents. Because of this, Gathen said he was unable to comment on several individual issues brought up in Wimberly's complaint.

"The issue that someone’s trying to paint is that this was a racially motivated," Gathen told CNN. "That wasn’t an issue with (the co-valedictorians). This is strictly an academic issue and a policy issue, not a racial issue."

Wimberly is seeking punitive damages of $75,000 and recognition as the sole valedictorian of her class. Wimberly's complaint also argues the McGehee school district, in southeastern Arkansas not too far from the Mississippi River, habitually withheld access to challenging classes from black students.

Wimberly said students were told at a schoolwide assembly that advance placement classes were very rigorous and that only those who really thought they would thrive with intense workloads should elect to take them. Then, individual students were taken aside and told that the classes really weren’t all that bad, she told CNN. The overwhelming majority of those students were white, she said, adding that she was the only black student in her AP literature class and one of two in calculus.

“Black students are meant to stay in regular course levels and mostly play sports,” Wimberly said. “That’s what were good at that that’s what we should stick to - that’s the mentality of McGehee.”

Wimberly said she had one teacher, for AP biology, who encouraged all students to take the class. Its racial makeup was half black, half white, and was more reflective of McGehee's student population, which is 46%  black.

The case has been gaining increasing attention since Courthouse News Service reported on it Monday.

According to the complaint, Wimberly's mother, Molly Bratton, works as the McGehee district's media specialist. On May 10, Bratton learned from the school's counselor that her daughter had earned the top grade point average in her class. After sharing the exciting news with her daughter, she overheard someone in the school's copy room saying the accolade would cause "a big mess," according to the complaint.

Later that day, the complaint says, Bratton confirmed her daughter's status with Superintendent Gathen.

Then things began to unravel, according to Wimberly.

The next day, the school's principal, Darrell Thompson, told Bratton that he had decided to appoint another student, who was white, as a co-valedictorian. CNN was unable to reach Thompson for comment.

The complaint says Thompson attributed the decision to something in the student handbook, though the complaint says he did not list a specific policy.

In regards to recognition of a valedictorian, the McGehee handbook says  that "students must be continuously enrolled at McGehee High School the last two semesters without transferring during this time to be considered in class ranking or eligible for valedictorian or salutatorian status."

The handbook says students will be given the same class rank only if their grades are the same, but in deciding class rank, students with lower GPAs who are taking more or harder classes will not be penalized. Gathen said the Wimberly's co-valedictorian had half a credit more than Wimberly and the difference in the students' GPAs was .03 or .05. Gathen said the outcome would have been the same were the situations reversed.

"I would have made the same decision," he said. "I was the one who made the ultimate decision."

Wimberly said she knew of students sharing the valedictorian position in the past, but only if their GPAs were the same, “down to the very last decimal point.”

When she found out that her daughter would have a co-valedictorian, Bratton called Gathen, who told her he had OK'd Thompson's decision, court documents state. The school's counselor had already sent out a news release to the local community about Wimberly's achievement, but the school then sent out an additional one about the co-valedictorian.

Bratton sought to bring up the issue at a school board meeting but was told by Gathen that it would have to wait for a meeting after the school's graduation ceremony because of an error in the form she filled out, according to the documents.

In addition to these details of the case, the complaint also claims that the district places more emphasis on challenging its white students than its black ones.

"African-American students were not encouraged to take Honors or Advanced Placement classes," the complaint says. "Caucasian students had to almost opt out (of advanced classes)."

Wimberly said she was lucky in that she had parents who would support her academic pursuits, even if many of her teachers would not.

“(Other students’) parents aren’t as active as mine,” Wimberly said. “Think about children who don’t have parents who are active in the school."

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Filed under: Arkansas • Civil Rights • Courts • Education • Justice • Race • U.S.
soundoff (2,063 Responses)
  1. brad

    this girl did all that hard work only to blow it by playing the race card and trying to sue for free money, I bet she'll have fun at class reunions.....that's if she doesn't try to sue them too.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jimmy

    Valedictorian and yet couldn't figure out how not to get pregnant. Maybe she should sue God for that. Good luck getting a job now that you've shown that you'll sue at the drop of a hat.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. andre

    i was a black valedictorian. can't tell you how many people thought it was because of affirmative action and not my merits. why do white people think blacks are this monolithic group of people who all do think and act the same way? judge people by their merits and actions. this girl has every right to do what she is doing..,.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • CNNRubbish

      Rather obvious Andre. Check out the "hair" article by another African-American. Blacks play the race card so much over every stupid thing its crying wolf. People are sick of it.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Randy

      Maybe because Blacks do not act independently. Look at the fact that 92% of black voters voted for Obama. Can you imagine the uproar if 92% of whites voted for John McCain? How many blacks supported OJ during his trial? A majority. Start to show you have a mind of your own and you will be treated that way.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • bryan

      Randy

      Randy said "Maybe because Blacks do not act independently. Look at the fact that 92% of black voters voted for Obama. Can you imagine the uproar if 92% of whites voted for John McCain? How many blacks supported OJ during his trial? A majority. Start to show you have a mind of your own and you will be treated that way"

      LOL yeah and white people are very independant - lets see waht happens to Herman Cain LOL.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Real American

    I want to tell you about the T Party in Lake County Illinois. One of their members has stated publically that he is not afraid of killing the police. He has also stated publically that in the coming civil war that the intellectuals will be the first to be killed. Unfortunately the sheriff of Lake County Illinois has aligned himself with the T Party. I am afraid that the sheriff, Mark Curran will not uphold his oath to serve the people. The white T Party is un-american. They are dangerous. They need to be silenced by taxing the wealthy into submission. Please get active and vote these people out. Get registered and vote. Don't let these un-american t-party idiots intimidate you. They will do what they can to stop you from voting. Don't let them. And please send someone to help us out in Lake County Illinois. Help us to recall sheriff Mark Curran. Please copy this note and share with others. We don't want another Oslo in Lake County Illinois.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. CNNRubbish

    With blacks it is always about race.
    Its always some white person holding them down, not understanding them or wanting them to do well.
    Just give her the money.... not that money is really what she wants. She wants the racism to stop. Which probably means simply turn over everything you own. That should cover it.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • bryan

      How do you expect blacks to trust a race of people who can preach the word of God and have slave, talk about the wonders of Jesus and segregation. Its played out in many societies where whites are the majority. South Africa, Isreal, America( blacks and Indians)......every where....you have proven that you cannot live with other races...plain and simple... yet you make movies like Avatar where some primitive culture is being overtaken by an opressor...truth be told, if you want a good opressed opressor movie just look at your history

      July 26, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Shaking My Head

    This is kind of absurd. I'd like to point out the many incorrect statements made in these comments but I don't think the majority of posters here warrant a well thought out response. "I wonder if she knows who the baby daddy is?" What? This is a smart, motivated young woman and this is all she deserves? Whether or not you agree with what she's doing is irrelevant, the legal system will sort that out one way or another but the racially charged ignorance threaded through many of these responses is appalling and, frankly, shameful. But what should i expect? These are the same neanderthals that can spew this nonsense and then say Blacks should "get over racism" (if that even means something) as if it doesn't exist.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • CNNRubbish

      Teen pregnancy is anything but "smart". Motivated obviously, but nothing about it was smart.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • bryan

      you are right .....they make the muslim extremists seem justified. All this will soon come to an end anyway.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jason

    The superintendant who made the decision is black. Here is why they had a co-valedictorian: "but in deciding class rank, students with lower GPAs who are taking more or harder classes will not be penalized. Gathen said the Wimberly's co-valedictorian had half a credit more than Wimberly and the difference in the students' GPAs was .03 or .05." It is totally fair.

    Second, so now it is discriminatory because most of the students who are able to pass AP classes are white? The reason why certain students are encouraged to take harder classes and others not, is because certain students are better students than others. Dear god, what is this country coming to?

    July 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • JomoDaMusicMan

      WHOMP TO DO, SO WHAT! Because the person in power that makes a racist decisions is black makes no difference. Many times black people who caters more to white people's interest are appointed to these powerful positions. Look at Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell and GWB's Nanny Congie Rice. These Blacks were given powerful positions but didn't give a damn about black people's interest. The KKK and Aryan Nation has their house N--, that would do anything to please their masters including killing & beating other blacks. The Tea Party also has these type of Black People, look at Congressman West from Florida, if the tea party wanted to bring back lyching this black fool would support still them

      July 26, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. donimus

    Loving these comments – especially the ones that say "whats the problem" this country is still polarized regardless of what anyone thinks – l really don't think Blacks as a whole do a lot of complaining about matters such as this – since they've been in this country its been dramatic progress.

    Actually some of the greatest inventions in human history has come from them something thats never discussed like our refrigerator – air conditioner – clothes dryer – automatic transmission – co invented the light bulb and telephone – space shuttles robotic arm- multi stage rocket – recoverable rocket boosters – and on and on and on – not many people know these things wonder why?

    July 26, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Hanzieb

    Does anything need to be said.
    Sue Arkansas! PERIOD.
    I would as white father of two Black children!
    It is not about the racist CLAIMS – it is about equality!

    July 26, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • jason

      Read the article, moron: "but in deciding class rank, students with lower GPAs who are taking more or harder classes will not be penalized. Gathen said the Wimberly's co-valedictorian had half a credit more than Wimberly and the difference in the students' GPAs was .03 or .05"

      The other girl earned extra credit and her gpa was very barely behind. That is the difference.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Brian

    I have never heard anything good about Arkansas. It's the redneck capital of the world.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Guest

    This is ridiculous. The article says it is school policy to adjust class ranking. "students with lower GPAs who are taking more or harder classes will not be penalized" This indicates that the white co-valedictorian must have had their GPA adjusted which made their rank equal to Wimberly's. If each student in the graduating class had their GPA and class ranking adjusted due to AP classes and such, it would not be wrong for the school to do what it did. If this was indeed a case of discrimination I still do not understand how Wimberly can demand 75,000 dollars! It would appear that she is trying to take advantage of the situation.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. knd1984

    Her name is Kymberly Wimberly? I think that is more of a crime than the alleged snubbing.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. 8andSkate

    Ted. What is this? What is this? This isn't a story. You can do better than this.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. RealityCheck

    I don't particularly give a crap about either's race. I do find it interesting that no one that's arguing her case seems to mention the rules clearly laid out in the school's handbook.

    In my personal opinion, a high school girl that gets pregnant isn't too smart. Again, a belief that has nothing to do with race.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shaking My Head

      Intelligence isn't birth control. Things happen.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  15. kk

    I can see why she would be mad and try to fight for the status she deserves, but she may have screwd her self by doing a full on lawsuit, if she wanted to go to a good college. I dont think any colleges she could have gotten into would even look at her file now. it really sucks but probably true.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      Nah, high achievers are all like this. You never saw Michael Jordan say, "aw shucks, we only beat you by one point, let's just call it a tie." Harvard is looking for the next generation of sharks, not doormats.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
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