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. Matt

    You'd think a valedictorian would know better than try to be a mind reader and assume she knows what other people's motives are. Maybe the other kid has rich or well connected parents. Maybe the Principal doesn't like women, or really thought the other kid was just as deserving. If she has to start playing the race card by the age of 18 every time she doesn't get her way, I doubt she'll end up being very successful, despite her ability to succeed in grade school.

    P.S. CNN, please hide this article before Al Sharpton gets a hold of it, and peddles his usual BS.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beandip

      Don't forget Jesse "whiner" Jackson

      July 26, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat

      shame on you.
      there was no other reason for the co but the fact she was black. By the way I am white. And I sure hope she wins this.

      July 26, 2011 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      Pat...Beandip is 100% more American than you to suggest that a black woman deserves ANYTHING special in this life or the next!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  2. yasyas

    I cannot speak to the validity of her claim, but what an amazing accomplishment for a young mother!

    July 26, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      Anybody can get pregnant!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. yasyas

    If you really are a teacher, I pray you are not teaching my child.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joe

    Sense dis don't make no since, because it my birfday, nofin, afext me; I'll just axe a question, when is she gonna get paid!?

    July 26, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      You blacks need to get some learnin.

      Ya'll cain't even talk strait.

      Lemme fix this few ya...

      Sense dis don't make no since, should be Since dis don't make any since

      because it my birfday, should be birthday

      nofin, afext me; should be nothin affects me

      I'll just axe a question, should be ASK darky ASK

      when is she gonna get paid!?

      When is she gonna get paid...her slave ancestors weren't paid nothin!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  5. roger

    Seems to me just another black female out for whatever money she can get in the name of racism.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12


      However if this story was reversed, and the black girl was white...

      ...and then they named a black girl a co-valedictorian...


      July 27, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. s kel

    shoot tea partyers

    July 26, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      I agree, but this girl ain't no tea party member! But lock an load anyway!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |

    This happened to my daughter. She wasn't up for valedictorian but she too took to AP classes in high school. She graduated #7 in her class, but had others above her that took regular classes that ended up with a higher GPA than she. I don't think this is or was far for those students who excelled and went above and beyond the regular classes offered.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norman

      your daughter wasnt smart enough to know that had she taken the easier classes, she would have been valedictorian

      July 26, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • dad

      Most schools use a weighted GPA system. Honors courses get 1 extra GPA point, AP courses get 2 points. A 'regular' "A" is 4 points, an honors A is 5 points and an AP "A" is 6 points. Did you child's school not do this? If so she was given 'credit' for taking more challenging courses.

      July 26, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Norps

    Why is this assumed racism? Did this student ever consider the level of course you take is the students decision, not the schools. Maybe that is the reason she was able to participate in AP courses, which are more demanding, because she had such supportive parents who were involved in her education, while the other students didn't. Maybe the story here is more about the dichotomy of parental involvement vs. non involvement.

    Her story is rife with logical fallacies and hurt feelings. Why can't she share the spotlight with another student, black or white, who had more credit hours, and slightly less GPA. The policy in the handbook seems pretty clear to me. For all we know "The Problem" that this was going to cause according to the overheard conversation could have been that this family & was known to create issues where there were none and the speaker was forseeing this article on CNN.com.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |

    Wonder if she knows who the father of her child is

    July 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norman

      i have a feeling it wasnt the salutatorian...

      July 26, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • wonderboy


      July 26, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      This should have been the crux of the story!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Vi

      ONE HUNG LOW.....Your name must be your IQ number...

      July 27, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 1rooster

    I see that the vile racist tea party pigs are alive and well on this forum instead of giving this incredible young lady her cudos.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      And I see you are a "brotha" or a "sista"

      July 27, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  11. Charles

    Already looking for a hand-out? She'll probably sue the college next that doesn't let her in, then her employer, and so on. I don't care what color the girl is, and no college will care if she was a co-valedictorian. Quit looking for the prize and just go work hard.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      First of all, let me say that I'm no racist! I have several acquaintances of the black race. But this one will end up on welfare soon!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  12. Daniel in Oregon

    Why are white people so afraid of minority people?

    July 26, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norman

      because the brown ones breed like rabits-theyll outnumber us in a few generations and the blacks...well, they are only 10% of the population, but comprise over 30% of the prison population...scary stuff

      July 26, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      Why were you born black? You made that mistake...you could have been born with a more favorable skin, hair, and eye color!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      Hey Norman,

      The vatican is responsible for them breeding like rabbits!

      And as far as the blacks go, we should incarcerate more so that the streets can be safer!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  13. Tee

    How selfish can this woman get?

    July 26, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • 12-21-12

      Not much more!

      Bachmann 2012

      July 27, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. Wolfpack

    yasyas – Teachers are not allowed to speak about what is inherently true in our society, huh? They just need to shut up and pretend like everyone is exactly alike, right?

    July 26, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Matt

    So is CNN really deleting everybody who thinks this is a bogus lawsuit? She (like most of the posters here) is assuming she knows what her principal's motives were. Maybe the other kid was well connected. Maybe the Principal didn't like women. Maybe he believes he was following the school handbook. Point is, she is attributing motives to him based on her own personal biases and hearsay. If you have to start playing the race card starting at age 18 every time you don't get your way, you're in for a long haul, kid.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
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