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. jason

    Did anyone actually read the article. The superintendent who made the decision was BLACK. And they say clearly WHY SHE HAD TO SHARE: "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"

    Second, where is all the indignation over the white students who really do have their college seats and their jobs taken to be given to a substantially less qualified black person? Blacks accepted to Ivy League schools have on average 298 sat points lower than whites and yet are accepted at 4x the rate. If you were truly so concerned about fairness, you should be incensed over affirmative action. She wasn't denied anything.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Monty Python

      apparently you didnt read the article yourself because the superintendants race is nowhere mentioned here in this article.....

      July 26, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. josetwb

    Ha ha it's funny she was the sole valedictorian that means she was smarter then the people who refused to recognize her

    July 26, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Randy

    Yes, there is racism, but it is used as an excuse so much, that the accusation means nothing. Not everything is about race. Quit playing the victim. Quit suing people just to get our of working. I see this everyday on my job. So many black staff just sit around all day talking, laughing, complaining, while the rest of us work. Sad, since there are some very hard working blacks, but they are in the minority. Pun intended.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hl

      Fool

      July 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      "So many black staff just sit around all day talking, laughing, complaining, while the rest of us work." You seem to be forgetting who earned the highest GPA in this case.

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

      Why didn't u tell the white victims to accept the jury decisions in the O J Trial AND FOR THEM TO JUST SHUT UP AND QUIT COMPLAINING AND BY THE WAY DON'T SUE O J IN CIVIL COURT

      July 26, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. zippy

    I think she'll have a tough time showing the AP classes were discriminatory. If you have the pre-requisites you can take the class. No pre-requisites no class.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Krista

    If you read the article, it suggests that the GPA's are weighted based on the difficulty of the courses. Hypothetically,she could have taken 5 difficult courses and 5 average courses, while the other person took 6 difficult and 4 average. Does a person taking 10 basic courses, who scores 100% in each course, therefore with a perfect GPA deserve to be Valedictorian more than a person who took all difficult courses, but only scored 95%. No. Their GPA's will be different, but obviously the person taking the more difficult courses is more deserving, even though their GPA is slightly lower.
    I assume, as this "weighting" policy has been pointed out, that this is the case.
    It is unfortunate that Ms Wimberley could not just be happy for herself and her peer. Incidentally, I also find it interesting that her mothers colleague forewarned of this "mess".

    July 26, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. s kel

    cnn didnt print my statment on here, do u want to know why?

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

    its because i wanted to to a racist buried.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZweiStein

      I'm sure you weren't valedictorian of your class.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • dale

      and you couldnt even do that right!!

      ZweiStein you right. probably didnt even go to school

      July 27, 2011 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  8. labandme

    Typical ghetto move is to sue anything that moves. She's well on her way.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZweiStein

      Yeah...she learned that from the rest of us.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • ohmygod50

      Yeah, real ghetto.....top grades in AP classes......unlike the white trash at the school......you are a bigot.......it is people like you who support the tea party and have taken this great nation back 30 years....

      July 26, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • loveit

      ghetto, because what? she's black? come on...if ghetto is taking AP classes and being valedictorian of your class, then maybe it should be redefined. SMH...

      July 27, 2011 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
    • dale

      LABandME=meth LAB in his mothers trailer and him.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
  9. Supra

    Here in Canada valedictorians are chosen by a vote from the student population regardless of their marks/GPA.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniel

      Sheesh, I hope you don't pick your doctors that way.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Calvin

      They do. That's why Canadians all come to USA for medical care.....

      July 26, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Monica

      LMAO, thanks for that, I needed a laugh, that explains a lot about Canada....

      July 27, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  10. jason

    The superintendent who made the decision was black, and their policy says: "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"

    This girl is just a racist, and she hates that she has to share it with a white girl. Plain and simple. And I noticed how that this is being featured on CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC all four. Funny, huh? It furthers their rush to judgement to propagate their storyline that white=racist, and black=downtrodden victim

    July 26, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Whyme

      Obama care...Clintoncomics.....thats why? Thx Jason

      July 27, 2011 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Darius

      The Principle made the decision not the superintendent. Read the article again please. smh.. shoots your whole argument to hell. Some folks just want recognition for their hard work and not blame others for their failures unlike some people in this forum.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • dale

      actually he is white. his spokesperson is african american. no need to lie about the fact sir.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Monica

      Well, let them go ahead then. Let the case progress so that once again it will just look like the black community is always crying racism when something doesn't go their way. It's sad, but true, I live here in the South, and boy, this stuff just never ends. You cut someone off on the road – it's because they're black, you don't notice someone and bump into them – it's because they're black, and on and on and on... As long as this goes on, things will never improve for the black community. That's not how you excel, it's not how you lift your community up. I'm an immigrant, came from a country that was constantly invaded and people were mistreated way beyond with black race experienced here. Yet we don't run around looking for apologies or constant perks. We worked hard and rebuilt our country. So I say: snap out of it already..

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

    Wonder how many people here screaming "that's raciiiissst" actually read the article. It clearly describes the stipulations from the student handbook which originally disqualified her. Folks are so excited to scream racism that they don't bother themselves with facts.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • dale

      no it does nothing of the sort. she was not disqualified! she got it acording to the rules for having the higest GPA. agian lies

      July 27, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  12. oleoleo

    i'd have doubts about her story until I heard it was in Arkansas

    July 26, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniel

      Did you have any more doubts when you actually read the story or learned that the superintendent is black? Or are you prejudiced against the south?

      July 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. co idea

    Maybe this 'co' thing works... Where is Obama's white 'Co'-President?

    July 26, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Name*chuck

    Whites get mad when they finish 2nd.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Daniel

    A quick google search of the superintendent who made the final decision shows that he's a black male. I guess, he's...racist? Against black people?

    July 26, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cherri

      Daniel, you joke about it. But I'm black and I know plenty of black people who are racist against their own honey. So yes, it's possible.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
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