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. R.Hammonds

    Well well well , we see another example of a person getting screwed !! And for those blacks on this sound off saying that they don't think this is about race you should take another look at the facts !! Either your to stupied or either you are from the south as we all know most of you black folks who are from the south don't have common since !! It shows on the way you vote !!

    July 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      LOL...and you have been "common since"...when?

      July 26, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big D

      Well, well, well, a northern hillbilly who can't spull.... You make it way to easy to point out your ignorance but it can be cured with education unless you are displaying your stupidity. Wake up my friend, do not persecute this girl for standing up for her beliefs and principles although she has sulry hurt her chances of getting into any major university. I sure hope that 75k was worth ruing her own future.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big D

      Well, well, well, a northern hillbilly who can't spull.... You make it way to easy to point out your ignorance but it can be cured with education unless you are displaying your stupidity. Wake up my friend, do not persecute this girl for standing up for her beliefs and principles although she has surly hurt her chances of getting into any major university. I sure hope that 75k was worth ruining her own future.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • trashlady

      I bet you thought Bush was right when he claimed there were "weapons of mass destruction" . You are the dumb one..you dumb racist.

      July 27, 2011 at 6:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Texasboy

      What an idiot.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
    • bburn

      What was your GPA ? I'm sure you weren't valedictorian, your spelling shows it. You say blacks from the south have no "common SENSE", what is your excuse.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Texasboy

      Since you think black folks from the south have no common "since", you're an idiot.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  2. Craig

    In the eyes of some she has two strikes against her. Based solely upon the information herein, it sounds like she's got a good case. Usually schools weight GPA's that include AP classes, and it's "possible" to graduate with a GPA higher than 4.0. However, it doesn't sound like this is the system in place here.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff Frank ( R - OHIO )

    "We all live in a sue happy society, rewarded with rubber checks."

    July 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. PLB

    Sounds racially motivated to me. They tried the same thing in Long Island and ended up changing the decision after the media caught wind of it. There would be no co valedictorian if it was reverse.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • debillo

      You're absolutely right, PLB. And thus is the injustice of the entire issue.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Fonz01

    The race card story is old & has been beaten to death. Who cares?

    July 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • bj

      The fruit doesn't fall too far from the tree. Do you write things on your hands also?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shell

      This young lady is not playing the race card, if it was you that felt that you were cheated from being the valedictorian, you would have done the same thing.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      Half the students are black and there are a number of blacks in the school administration.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil in Oregon

      you guys didn't read even the HEADLINE of the article??

      July 26, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jackie

      Shell, she is playing the race card. What do you think she was doing when she said, "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.” ?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      @Jackie, black who think and say that, are just as racist as whites that say that.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • walter

      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. She should go home get a job raise her kid............. race card fail

      July 27, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Texasboy

      aaaayyyyyy

      July 27, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • lahunjah

      You know what's more tired than the "race card?" White people being racist.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • queenbee

      Larry

      Half the students are black and there are a number of blacks in the school administration."

      Which means what? A black administrator does not exclude racism. Stop trying to act like there is no case if people are of the same race when an issue goes down. The fact is, if this woman can show a disparity OR the enactment of policies not in the guidelines and/or not consistent with previous cases, then she has a case. This appears to be reverse Affirmative Action, this time so whites will not have to feel so bad for having someone of a different race be deemed smarter than a white person. If it was the other way around, most of the naysayers would claim that blacks wanted a handicap for this and that it was unfair. The black girl was smarter than all of those other students–stop trying to make her pretend it is otherwise and DEAL with it. The GPAs for advanced placement are already weighted when grades are given so the final GPA of the students reflect their final effort–after that, all else is BS to have both races acknowledged. If you don't like the idea of AA when it applies to women and minorities-there is NO TRUCK in applauding it now.

      July 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cesar The Chorizo Champ Of Chihuahua

    Did she ever think it was because she popped out a kid while she was still in school and has nothing to do with being black?

    July 26, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frita The Fajita of Florida

      ......I forgot what I was going to say because I was too busy trying to make up a dumb name to counter yours! LOL

      July 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shannon

      Is that supposed to be a better justification? She had a child as a teenager and still managed to get better grades than everyone else. Why should she be punished for that?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sowhat

      So what? So she had a kid, I don't get what your trying to say. That she had more responsibilities and STILL had the highest GPA?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • lisa

      Really? She did it IN SPITE OF extra challenges- a whopper of one called a baby. It's about GPA and GPA alone- and she was at the top.
      You go, girl, and continue to make a positive difference in the world.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jarod

      WHAT IN THE HECK does that have to do with her GRADES you moron?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • laura

      Even if it was because "popped out" a kid, she cannot be punished for doing so – its against the law to discriminate against a student based on their status as a parent. Good for her for continuing to do well as both a student and a parent-i hope she continues to see success.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • oleoleo

      You are saying that having a child should be disqualified from being valedictorian? You couldn't be valedictorian in your wildest dreams. I'doubt you made it past high school.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texasboy

      Sorry- thought that said "chorizo chump"- never mind.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. fireitup

    Why do we always pull that race card out? Is co val going to affect any scholarships she might get? Doubtful. But you can count on the fact that she's raised such a ruckus, might affect the perception of her, wherever she goes. Yep she has supportive parents, I'll bet they'd like a little piece of that $.
    When all else fails, sue. I hope their lawyer is pro bono. Call in the NAACP or we could just stop the nonsense.

    July 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      generally, i am against race card everything, even when it is actually racist because people's being racist has so little bearing on our lives unless it is an educator, employer or an officer of the law.

      but in this case, i think race might be a factor. i had a friend who was korean and i am almost certain she had the highest grade in her OK middle school algebra class. she was in there as an advanced student (8th grader). but a white classmate who was there as a regular student (meaning in the 9th grade) got the best math student award. she so rarely got anything less than perfect on her tests and homework, the other student would have had to have had no error on anything.

      if she had been bolder or the times had been more politically aware or her parents had been more fluent in english, i am sure my friend would have asked to look at the grade book. but alas, she let it go.

      this story sounds similar, coming from a similar southern state with similar players. i wonder why the school felt so compelled to take her thunder when she obviously had the higher grade point. Three tenths of a point is hardly negligible.

      July 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      i don't think she should get $75K but on the other hand, how do you deter others from doing similar malfeasance?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • tcp

      You simply define the criterion for award of Valedictorian and Salutatorian better. Highest GPA, PERIOD! This is an injustice but not one worthy of monetary compensation...that's where she flies off the rails.

      July 27, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • cyndi

      when racial equality reaches America then the so-called "race card" can be put away. so sad, the most educated country in the world is still not smart enough to look pass the color of one's skin.. ignorant is as ignorant does..

      July 27, 2011 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Could be because, sadly, there are still racists in the world, like you.

      July 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clayton Hall

      The "race card" needs pulling as long as whites continue to claim that we live in a post-racial society.

      July 30, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. LOL

    I know you are trolling, maybe, but your comment cracked me up! Thanks for the laugh ! :D

    July 26, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • gman43

      CAN WE ALL SAY kkk = JIM CROW

      July 27, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. HL7Guru

    I graduated Salutatorian of my H.S. as I should have due to my gpa being just a few percentage points lower than the Valedictorian. This young lady probably worked her butt off in school, and there is nothing wrong with her wanting to receive sole recognition as the class Valedictorian either.

    July 26, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Deezle

    I honestly feel that this has less to do with her race (though not totally devoid of any part) and has more to do with her being a teen mom. I personally want to put blame on the media who has made a spectacle out of teen/single mothers and branded all girls who get themselves in that situation as unfit/second class human beings. I went to an (extremely) predominantly white highschool, and over half of the female population (all white, btw) of my graduating class was either a mom or pregnant prior to graduation day. While most were your typical white trash, there were those young ladies who chose not to let the stereotype define them, and went on the do greater things than take up space and tax dollars. I think defying the cliche is what this young lady is trying to do, she is just more brazen about going about it.

    I personally don't have kids, and never had good grades, so I can't imagine the struggle she had to go through to succeed both scholasticly and as a mother. Kudos and good luck, Ms. Wimberly.

    July 26, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • tcp

      Bald faced lie. Name your school and graduating class. Had your school had a 50%+ pregnancy rate it would have almost certainly made national news...if anything, modern media has GLORIFIED teen pregnancy.

      July 27, 2011 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
    • queenbee

      tcp–Reading comprehension is a beautiful thing. The poster said ..."of her GRADUATING class" A graduating class at any school is usually 1/4 of the school population not the ENTIRE school body. Or is that little bit of algebra too hard for you to process?

      July 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christina Cook

      Very true. I'm a white unwed mother, finishing up my college degree, and have had to deal with plenty of people who felt "I didn't belong" when all I'm trying to do is better my life and gain the opportunity to give my son a good one. Most Americans dislike single moms and unmarried moms, this is a fact- check out every single national poll that has been conducted. The most recent one said seventy percent of Americans consider single moms bad for society. Single moms have the highest unemployment rates, face discrimination at work and in housing- I wonder if some of these other commenters don't read the news or just love to stew in their own ignorance. Try being an unmarried mom for a day, and tell me how "glorified" it is. Get real.

      August 6, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. whocares

    i care. its still happening and its wrong. a kid should not be growing up thinking 'o this is how it is' deal with it. and they also should not have to waste time defending every wrong. people should just plain and simple know better. be better.

    July 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dannie

    This young women of color has right to fight for what she believes and not be ridiculed because of her ethnicity. If we didn't have modern day Good Old Boys and Girls that purposely try to prevent other ethnic background from reaching their potential this wouldn't be an issue.

    July 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • B A

      I'm white, and no "Good Ol' Boys" club ever came to my aid. The NAACP will be all over this story, just like you are, even though it seems that there's no real indication race played a factor. In fact, I can't find one reason, even in a story as biased as this one, to suggest the administrator's decision was racially motivated. Playing the race card comes across as paranoia to anyone who isn't invested in anti-white politics.

      July 27, 2011 at 5:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      Aye- but where is the whining when there are ethnic based scholarships that are only given to minorities or a minority is chosen over a non-minority with the same credentials in order to "diversify" the school? Fair is fair, keep it even on both sides.

      August 6, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Is it friday yet

    This young lady did not play the race card. Her compliant states how black students were discouraged from taking AP classes. I'm wondering how this will play out. If the mother was never told...I wonder if we would have this issue right now?

    July 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Wow

    Wow, do we always have to do what the "minorities" want? Bull crap that The race card is always pulled.

    July 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • amanda

      what does this minority want? proper recognition for doing the best in her class?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • bburn

      If she was white her daddy would have had an army of lawyers there. Believe me YOU don't have to do anything I want. Beside I'm allergic to hatred and stupidity.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Craig

      Please! If this was a story about the white kid who got a higher GPA and had to settle for co Valedictorian you would be up in arms!

      July 27, 2011 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Clayton Hall

      Why don't you cry harder? Because then you might actually drown out the minority voices demanding equal access and equal means so that what white people call an "equal system" can be instead an "equitable system" where racial privilege doesn't get in the way of life chances.

      July 30, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. David

    It's 75K, people. Not 750K.. amazing how many people have actually commented about 750K.

    July 26, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • defragg

      They didn't finish HS... You pointed out the correct amount.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
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