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. Lance

    I agree with the girl with the higher GPA that she should not have to share her honor... however, why is everything always about race today? Why is race even the issue here? Why can't the little girl make the argument that she is sole valedictorian because she got the highest grades and argue with that? By bringing race into this, it inflames everyone. Maybe Obama should have a beer with this girl's principal and a coke with her so this can be worked out.

    July 27, 2011 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
    • HoustonSteve

      It would be inappropriate for Obama to share any coke or crack with her, given the illegal nature of these drugs.....at least until he's out of office.

      July 27, 2011 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
    • marie

      I think houstonsteve provided a wonderful illustration of why "race always gets brought into it." Of course, somebody will probably deny that the crack joke was in anyway related to the fact that Obama is black. I just know I didn't hear a lot of crack jokes about Bush... or any other president in our history. THAT is why race is an issue: because people are a holes.

      July 27, 2011 at 3:59 am | Report abuse |
  2. coexist

    You do have white entertainment television. It is amazing that because you see a few blacks sprinkled around tv and in pageants or other places that racism doesn't exist. I bet you believe that if you get a vanilla ice cream cone and sprinkle a few pieces of chocolate shavings on it you have chocolate ice cream.

    July 27, 2011 at 3:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott Pilgrim beat The World

      No, I call that vanilla with chocolate sprinkles. >_>

      July 27, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tony

    CNN has a gay/race article every single day. QUOTE ME ON THIS! I'll even start from this week. Sunday and Monday had articles on gay couples getting married. Yesterday was about the wealth gap between whites, hispanics, and blacks (no asians, suprise, surprise) and today is this valedictorian article. Tomorrow will be something else. Race/gay

    July 27, 2011 at 3:13 am | Report abuse |
    • marie

      Do you want to talk about what that fact offends you? What is it that makes those topics so uncomfortable for you?

      July 27, 2011 at 4:06 am | Report abuse |
    • marie

      *why

      July 27, 2011 at 4:07 am | Report abuse |
    • epige

      It's great to know that you live in a world that's totally free of the lingering effects of racism and homphobia!

      July 27, 2011 at 4:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. smartypants

    It's always racism. Why does she care that a White student was co-valedictorian? It is BY FAR usually the case that the non-White gets a break and gets awards due more to compassion than actually merit. At my school I don't think they would have awarded valedictorian to a teenager with a child either. Of course I am in my 40s. We tolerate everything these days.

    July 27, 2011 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Concerned

      You know that she had to have help because she's black, right. She's completely incapable of doing it on her own because she's black, right. The white student did it all on their own simply because they're white, right. What's sad is you are 40 and completely lack logic, understanding, or wisdom. I suggest all those who have made racist comments to pray. JUDGE NOT UNLESS YOU ARE JUDGED!

      July 27, 2011 at 4:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. 99indinf

    I hope she beats the pants off of them in her lawsuit.

    July 27, 2011 at 3:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Flipper

      Yes...immediately yell racism, demagogue those who you think violated your over-blown sensitivities, and then sue for a gratuitous amount. Welcome to the American Left. Yet, when minorities are given "undeserved" preference over whites via Affirmative Action, then it's all fine.

      The funny thing about this story is, the white version of Affirmative Action may be at work here (and then again, maybe not), and the black student & her family goes berserk. This is just a taste of what passed-over whites feel all the time, thanks to Affirmative Action. It sucks, doesn't it?

      July 27, 2011 at 4:03 am | Report abuse |
  6. Adam

    You know how she's gonna get that extra edge in life? By dealing the race card! She already knows it works. Please, this is not about race!

    July 27, 2011 at 3:38 am | Report abuse |
  7. Edwin

    There are a lot of cases where people use race as an excuse to sue. There are also a lot of cases where racist policies, whether official or not, have been kept in place and tolerated or encouraged.

    Nobody on this blog is in a position to have any idea whatsoever whether this student's case is valid or not. Unfortunately, one of the Founding Principles of the United States is that citizens must gossip about other people, especially if they can do so in a disapproving way. We are a country of busy-bodies - not only do we put our noses in everybody else's business, but we do so without the burden of actual facts. It is really sad.

    I say, let the case work itself out. If there is merit to the case (and there might be), it will probably be revealed in good time. If not (and there might not be), this too will probably be discovered.

    July 27, 2011 at 3:43 am | Report abuse |
  8. Flipper

    So let me get this straight.....the girl's family is suing for $75,000 b/c she has to share the valedictorian role with someone who took harder (and more) classes but earned a GPA that was only .03 lower than hers? And they're playing the race card? Are you kidding me?

    As far as the school discouraging many black students to not take advanced AP courses...that is a different matter that should be looked into. But as far as the valedictorian honor goes, this Kymberly Wimberly (really?) sounds incredibly petty.

    Let's say the situation is reverse. Let's say the black student took harder (and more) classes than a white kid who took easier classes but she was denied a co-valedictorian honor b/c her GPA was only a miniscule .03 less? I'm thinking the race card would have been played here too, am I right?

    But don't worry...I'm sure the "Revered" Jackson and/or Sharpton will show up uninvited, dramatically increase racial tensions, and provoke some sort of racial event.

    July 27, 2011 at 3:55 am | Report abuse |
    • epige

      You did not get it straight, if you read the story this girl was involved in many advanced placement programs. So no, the other student was not taking a more difficult course load than her. Your critical reading and reasoning skills probably show why you so strongly feel that someone is keeping the white man down.

      July 27, 2011 at 4:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Concerned

      Maybe you should read more carefully. She took those class as well. The other student took one HALF credit more, which should have given him or her the advantage, but it did not because he obviously wasn't the best student.

      July 27, 2011 at 4:52 am | Report abuse |
  9. JacksonFive

    hahaha great entertaining commentary on this article!! This chick is retarded – which matches her ridiculous name.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:10 am | Report abuse |
  10. Bob Ramos

    This is a very clear case of racism. She should be named as sole valedoctorian. The other student should do the honorable thing and decline the co-valedoctarian slot. The school principal and supereintendent should both be fired.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:16 am | Report abuse |
  11. lisatubman

    Well, my brother was chosen as a valedictorian at his high school back in the nineties and his speech was unforgettable. Even though I would never endorse having a child out of wedlock, at least she is trying to do something positive with her life. If these allegations of hers are proven to be correct, then the school district should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. She obviously worked hard to achieve that honor, and no one should have the right to take that away.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
  12. shakes

    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." i think she left school for a while to have her baby. that's the issue folks!!

    July 27, 2011 at 4:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Because the written letter to the rule is always right?

      shut up

      July 27, 2011 at 4:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Shaun Catron

      Isn't McGehee that awful player on the Brewers?

      July 27, 2011 at 4:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Meggie

      Exactly right, shakes. But of course, she has to immediately play the race card to try and get her own way. Shame on her.

      July 27, 2011 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
    • cjack

      This article only mentions the GPA of both students being so close as the sole reason for two valedictorian. There is no mention of Wimberly not being enrolled for two consecutive semesters. Had Wimberly not been enrolled for two consecutive semesters she never would have been selected to begin with. Also, what about the significant lack of blacks in AP classes compared to the population of blacks in the school? There may be some substance to what Wimberly is claiming and before we start calling on her using the race card maybe we should look a little deeper at the school. I wonder how many times have the principle or school had two valedictorians.

      I think that the school missed the real message of a minority-teen-mom who continued her education and acquired the highest GPA in doing such. But, the school choose the opposite: We cannot have a minority-teen-mon as an example to other young ladies. Teen moms need all of the motivation and support that is possible and not to be kicked when they are doing well.

      July 27, 2011 at 6:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Tool Schmool

      @Guest: You're reasoning skills aren't that good are they? She was named valedictorian despite the rule because she obviously busted her rear, but there was someone else who actually qualified.. Get it now?

      July 27, 2011 at 7:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. rd

    separation of the races is a must give us blacks what is rightfully ours and we will stay away from whites. we dont need all this underhanded dealings we have had enough of this. only satan wants us to segregate which keeps us fighting each other for what . like this poor a piece of paper thats not worth it.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:42 am | Report abuse |
  14. Squawkerz

    When will people stop judging young American's by the color of their skin, but instead by the content of their character? When America? When...? She has accomplished more in 18 years then probably most, if not all of those who have posted comments on this message board, yet people still let jealously and subconscious prejudice blatantly run rampant in this country we all call home.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:46 am | Report abuse |
    • cjack

      You are so right.

      July 27, 2011 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
  15. Martha

    This girl is my idol. I am seriously thinking about printing up her picture. I don't know why they would deny her the honor, for image reasons or they are just plain racist but to me this girl is my inspiration as I head off to college.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:47 am | Report abuse |
    • biogy91

      Your IDOL?? She got pregnant out of wedlock while still in High School. True she did have more issues to deal with while attending school, but getting pregnant is not IDOL material.

      July 27, 2011 at 5:11 am | Report abuse |
    • kdog

      I agree with Martha's post- She is IDOL material- yes, she got pregnant, had a child out if wedlock. But the bigger point is she OVERCAME her situation and excelled. So don't tell me that's not powerful, and please don't talk about the speck until you have removed the LOG in your eye.

      July 27, 2011 at 5:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Meggie

      @KDOG: no, that is not the "bigger" issue. Why do we praise those who royally screw up and then overcome it, instead of those who stay on the straight & narrow path, resist temptation and fight against peer pressure in the first place?

      July 27, 2011 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Hannah

      @biogy: you got it exactly right. Getting knocked up as a teen is NOT someone who should be admired.

      July 27, 2011 at 5:57 am | Report abuse |
    • cjack

      biogy91, Meggie, and Hannah; How can you say that the birth of Ms. Wimberly's child was a mistake? Simply because of her age? Or, is it that she is a single parent? First off, in America today, there are many many single parents of all ages. So, being a single parent is more of a social issue. The fact that she has a child as a teen is another social issue. The main reason why, in America, that we do not like teens to have children is because it is very hard for them to support a child. It is not that they cannot raise a child, even though quite a few struggle with raising their child. But, there are those in their 30's and 40's who struggle as well with raising children. The biggest facto in this story is that teen moms can still be successful academically. That having a child while in high school is not an excuse to drop out or to do mediocre while in school. This story tells other teen moms that they have to work harder, but it can be done. Support the positive, be optimistic, and volunteer within your town or city to help young girls/women instead.

      July 27, 2011 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
    • CarmenSo

      Yes she got pregnant out of wedlock exactly like Bristol Palin which white people seem to idolize. At least this young woman isn't using her status as a teenage mom to get money and keep her mom in the political limelight. Also, she seems smart, unlike Bristol, who is going to college when? Oh that is right she has a baby for us to take care of.

      July 27, 2011 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
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