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. Emily

    on a different note: Kymberly Wimberly? Seriously?

    July 27, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
  2. Flashdog2

    The race card. You white people sickened me. We are about to go into default as a country because the white
    GOP won't compromise with a black president.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    Fuk white ppl. They always want to put us dowwwwwwnnnnn

    July 27, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  4. Capt Obvious

    This is no different than affirmative action. Looks like the black people don't like that so much when they get better scores. This is called maximum irony...

    July 27, 2011 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  5. HeDidHisTime

    SHE HAS THE HIGHEST GPA, there should be NO "CO-ANYTHING" especially not with someone who has a lower GPA.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. sick of this

    Its time I pull the race card. I have had to pay for my college, while working a full time job and raising three kids while hearing african americans boast at work that their college is free! Ive had to sit by and watch so many more qualified whites lose out to jobs because....well they had to hire a black candidate.

    This is discrimination!

    July 27, 2011 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  7. 12-21-12

    THIS IS WHY PEOPLE...

    What people?

    ...HATE BLACKS!

    BINGO!

    We hate you because we don't see you on our TV shows, none of our friends are black, our dogs bark at you guys, none of the movies we see have blacks, our kids are scared of you, our parents are scared of you,

    IF WHITE IS RIGHT, black must be wrong!

    July 27, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
  8. Maty

    If most of the students "almost had to opt out" of AP and Honor courses, wouldn't the fact that such a high number of students being offered placement in AP/Honor courses leave no room at all for anyone to be considered exceptional? Anyways, if her GPA is higher, she should be Valedictorian. There can be only one, right?

    July 27, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
    • over here

      sorry but her name is ridiculous it sounds like a cartoon lol....no but yeah good for her she is smart and a mother. she should be proud of herself

      July 27, 2011 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. Bill

    Valedictorian should go to the highest GPA period!!

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

      Bill help me out, which of the students had the higher GPA by .3 or .5 as they say there was ?????? That 1 lone student should get the award, but no one is specifying whom it was. I agree with you.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Wrong. A person with straight A's taking 3 AP classes and 3 regular classes in a semester has a GPA of 4.5 ((5+5+5+4+4+4)/6). A person with straight A's taking 3 AP classes and 4 regular classes in a semester has a GPA of 4.42 ((5+5+5+4+4+4+4)/7). The person who takes on the bigger load has the lower GPA, but actually did better than the one who had the higher GPA because he took more classes and still got straight A's. That is exactly the situation here. If anything the other person should have been awarded valedictorian over the girl suing the school.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Bigman

      Thanks for the breakdown Micheal. Seems that because Wimberly(The student suing the school) took an extra class, she dropped her GPA down just a .3 compared to the student whom took 1 less class but either way both students had straight A's. Seems Kimberly isn't getting the recognition for that extra class. But I guess numbers don't lie, If Kimberly when its all said and done had a lower GPA, she shouldn't even want or receive "Co-Valedictiorian", It sucks that the school blew their load too early about whom was getting the lone valedictorian award, but " After Further review, and double checking the numbers, she lost by .3 and should be recognized for coming in 2nd place.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Liligi

      I think the problem here, Michael, is that it has not ever happened that way in the past...... so why now? It is stupid for people to just ignore huge chunks of information to make their little flimsy point. Sure it would be fine if it had happened before. But it has not.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • bukes1

      @Michael

      I understand your point, but we're talking about half a credit. THat involves a little more complex arithmatic than you presented in your example. So not sure who had the higher "weighted" gpa. Need to see both girls' transcripts for that.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Constantchange

      Thank you Michael. The weighted GPA system is the culprit here. The right thing was done. You would think the oh-so intelligent, angry valedictorian would understand the statistical anomaly that caused the GPA difference, and welcome the co-valedictorian status in the interest of fairness, rather than stomp off in a hissy fit. Stay classy Lil' Kim.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Constantchange

      Hey Liligi... Calm down a bit. Michael's point is a completely valid mathematical explanation of how two candidates can take the same number of AP courses, get straight A's, but a candidate that takes on an extra, non-AP course and receives an A is actually penalized for having done so. For this reason an adjustment must be considered. His point is not flimsy. For example, If I look at you at 2am from across a dimly lit room, you might seem a 10. The addition of daylight and sobriety might lower that number dramatically. A number is not always what it seems.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Liligi

      Hey ConstantChange, you also seem to have a problem with reading. Let me put it in simple terms for you, which is always the most universal.... If you call an egg and egg today..... Why in the world would you call it beef tomorrow? You can do as many mathematical equations as you want. The point still remains that she had the highest GPA score period, and the HISTORY of her school showed that AP class scores had NEVER been put under more consideration UNTIL her case?

      I mean if you don't understand that then I don't know what to tell you. You're purposely trying to be a troll at this point.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Constantchange

      Well Liligi, after having read the article again, it seems that you must have some inside information that is not disclosed by the author. Nowhere in the article is it stated that this school never weighted AP coursework differently prior to this situation. Actually, if they did not, they should have been. Either you simply make up information to bolster your "flimsy" case, or you have insider knowledge about the specifics of this story that are not mentioned in the article. Which is it?

      July 27, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
  10. WoW Really

    So "Sick of This". When you say jobs HAD to hire a black candidate, that should tell you that there is something wrong with the system. They are HAD to hire someone black because if the were not MADE to they would not hire a black person. Yeah you can pull the race card but why.

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

      Sit down before you hurt yourself.
      Clearly, our education system failed you. Please learn to write before you come on here and give everyone a headache from trying to read your nonsense!!

      July 27, 2011 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • queenbee

      AA= out of every 100 jobs 5 must go to qualified female OR a minority. Damn those females and minorities for not letting all 100 jobs go to white males, huh? AA ONLY applies to firms who do business with the government. Private companies can keep on hiring all white males or all white people if they want to.

      July 28, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark

      Nominally, a private company can hire whomever they want. But in reality, they have to be able to defend themselves against being sued for racist hiring practices. The only way to do this is hire to a certain percentage of minorities (usually the same as the population). This is a big disadvantage to people in the majority when there are less minority applicants than their percentage in the population. So if 5 out of every 100 jobs goes to a female and 1 in every 100 applicants is a female, that's a huge advantage for any woman who wants the job.

      August 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. awsarge

    Has time changed? Someone said it right that the Principle was not strong enough to go against the grain. Right is right and wrong is wrong. I agree sue them all…..

    July 27, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  12. Same Old...

    Ugh, here we go... The race card comes out again.

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

      Have you walked in those shoes? Why does it have to be a RACE card?

      July 27, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
    • IPityU

      DID YOU READ THIS ARTICLE? CAN you read?

      July 27, 2011 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
    • bukes1

      Yeah and the article doesn't tell the whole story. The fact that she's a teen mother is the real issue. Either way, the school is wrong.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
  13. HeDidHisTime

    SHE HAS THE HIGHEST GPA, PERIOD!!!!!!!!!

    July 27, 2011 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Bigman

      Can you be the help I need and tell me whom had the higher GPA by .3 or .5 was it the black or white student ? No one seems to clarify that answer ???? Whomever had the highest should get the Award just like you said. Thanks

      July 27, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
    • bukes1

      @bigman

      The black girl got the higher gpa

      July 27, 2011 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
  14. none

    Im 25 and I def seen this in high school. The black kids were MADE to stay in regular classes and were always discouraged from taking AP courses. Good to see this is still going on in the US...smdh.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  15. Abookworm

    I don't believe she should receive money for punitive damages but she should win her case about being the only valedictorian.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
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