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. Bob

    Here's another example of someone playing the race card with no evidence. Black students are meant to stay in regular courses and play sports? Where did she come up with this, her own observations? I don't buy that for a second. How kids do in school is more influenced by their home life than anything else. Whites in general have much stabler homes than Blacks, and its not about race, its about economics. The higher your income level, the more likely you are to have a stable family that supports and encourages you academically. Throw out the case unless there is some actual evidence.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Stephen

      lol did you really just write that? pity

      July 27, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Common Sense

      That is absolutely true, sir. I was pushed into baseball and basketball in high school, not because I wanted to play, but because I could throw a balled up piece of paper from the back corner of my classroom into the trash can on the opposite side beside the door. I was cut from the baseball team and sent to track and field simply because I "ran too fast". I've had teachers recommend me for regular academic classes instead of honors and AP when I made straight A's in theirs without even trying. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Race is still an issue in America and anyone who wants to keep a blind eye to it is living a lie.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      I'm white and was encouraged to play sports by the phys ed teacher because I was athletic, but if I was black that automatically becomes racist. I have a hard time believing that teachers would intentionally hold back students with straight A's from being in advanced classes. If this were the case, there would've been lawsuits from previous students of this school if things were that blatant.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  2. abacus2

    Why do black students need to be encouraged by the school to take AP classes? If they qualify, they need to get off their behinds and take them! I guess I'm not allowed to talk about lazy parents, because that would be being racist. I'll bet this girl had some time at an alternative campus due to her pregnancy and that's were the clause in the handbook kicked in. She should have spent more time listening to the human reproduction section in AP biology.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
    • udontknome

      Wow, stupid comments from stupid ppl.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jray84

    Why is it the people who doubt the claim of racism are always called racist? Its always the people that see racism everywhere, that get infuriated if you even doubt their claims of racism. Why can't you leftists have a civil conversation about race or anything for that matter? If you say something is racist, and I say its not, you jump on me and call me a racist bigot etc etc. I'm amazed at how intolerant you people are of people with differing opinions. The more people play the race card the more people will ignore it as crying wolf.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Yep. Innocent until proven guilty. Just because some naive student thinks she observes racism, doesn't mean she is. She has provided nothing but speculation due to her own lack of understanding of how the world works.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  4. christmineng

    Yea your very mature......NOT

    July 27, 2011 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
  5. fed up

    Why is everything about race? I was gonna make a nice long post, but it's pointless. I am firmly convinced all people are uninformed and ignorant.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
    • udontknome

      Looks like you may be valedictorian of some class too, the class of fools, hahahahahahahahahaaa! Fed up, good! Now you know how it feels!

      July 27, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  6. CR

    How has nobody commented on the fact that her name is Kymberly Wimberly? Seriously?

    July 27, 2011 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. Katherine

    What good does she think she will do by taking this type of money from already cash strapped schools? Also, the article fails to mention how much school she missed when she had her baby. Most schools won't even consider a new mother for valedictorian due to missing so much class. They could have just refused to give it to her for this reason alone. What she accomplished was amazing, and every teen mother should look up to her. She needs to let this go and move on.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Deanna

      She made the grades. If attendence is a consideration why isn't it in the school handbook? If she met the criteria based on the criteria provided and there is precedence for someone with her GPA being sole Valedictorian the school has to be held accountable.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. Think People.

    If the co-valedictorian was also black would she be upset about it?

    July 27, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. SonicStun

    Maybe they thought she was a fake, who names their kid "Kymberly Wimberly"??

    July 27, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. Anyong

    Im more concerned about her name. Kymberly Wimberly????? REALLY???

    July 27, 2011 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
    • My Time

      It could have been Kenika Kashieka Quaneeka Joneeka Wimberly Winfrey Jackson Sharpton.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jorge

    I think that the most relevant point of this story lies not in that this young lady was or was not chosen as valedictorian based on GPA/class load, but in that black students with qualifying grades were repeatedly discouraged or deferred from taking advanced courses that would benefit them in their chosen career education, under possibly malicious and/or unjustifiable pretenses. Perhaps the most beneficial solution to the issue at hand would be an investigation on the frequency and nature of this trend by a panel independent of the school district in order to establish accountability and corrective measures. Whether perpetrated by contempt or misguided judgement, this sort of thing is counterproductive to the mission statement of ANY school district and to the good of the community in general. It's not like the condition of the U.S. school system today is peachy-keen and we can let stuff like this continue to slide into the future.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • ginamero

      How is it so many people believe everything she says without waiting for the law to figure it out? What I do know is she's not smart enough to figure out how to use birth control so how does she know every conversation every teacher had with every student? This smells of illegitimate fish...it stinks so many people take every word they hear and believe it....geez, talk about sheeple.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      You are assuming that her assertions are true...

      July 27, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • BC

      I am having a hard time believing this part of the claim. It has the feel of something being concocted to bolster her damages claim. It is hard to take her seriously with the $75k thrown in. Valedictorian status is not the Nobel Prize with a $1 million kicker. It is something you earn and are recognized for, and they have not taken that away.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Exactly. There is no racism at play UNTIL an investigation suggests that there is a strong correlation between black students with exceptional grades being stuck in remedial classes. That should be easy to prove or disprove, yet all these dumb people are jumping to the conclusion that this girl has a legitimate case before the facts are even known.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Raymond

      My daughter scored a perfect 600 on all of her SOL's and the school canceled the awards for SOL's that year. How convenient. The next year they resumed the SOL awards. She was one of 10 blacks in the fifth grade which consisted of about 70 students. It hurt her and my feelings so bad. Where are all the so called christians at when these people sit behind closed doors and treat children this way.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
  12. millsjf

    Blah Blah- I'm tired of hearing all this black shlt. Black’s separate their selves everyday from whites. Like say AFRICAN AMERICANS last time I checked if you are born in America that makes you an American. You don't have to say African I am aware of where race came from just like you do mine. Black colleges, black scholarships, BET and countless others that separate blacks from whites all these things are racist. Can you imagine what would happen if there was a whites only college. Slavery is over so get over it life goes on. I was turned down for a job because I was white and they needed a Blackman because of affirmative action. Maybe I should sue for 75,000

    July 27, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Glad someone else things like me. I knew this was going to be able a black before I even looked at the article.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
    • anna

      I couldnt have said it better myself.

      As the black comediene Bill Cosby said wake up, start speaking properly and get on with your lives, you cant blame the whites any more.

      He was right.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Im losing my mind or its to early....
      "Glad someone else thinks like me. I knew this was going to be a black "issue" before I even looked at the article."

      July 27, 2011 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Money

      IT's true, racism has been labeled as whites hating on everyone else, but the reverse is also just as true, the only difference is that, at least in the US and Europe, whites are the majority (for now). Unless the issue is addressed from both sides, then it will never really be settled.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
    • bunbytes

      Have you ever thought that most people think "white" is the norm and that's why minorities emphasize their status? When was the last time you said, "I went to lunch with John, my white friend ..." We (whites) make the distinction pf race. Don't worry, our country's population is rapidly changing and whites will be in the minority.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  13. bud

    Playing the race card while you can still make a buck on it.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
  14. TinCup

    Where is Sharpton or The Reverend Jesse Jackson when you need them? OOhh sorry theres not enough cash here for them to cash in on......

    July 27, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • bunbytes

      Rev. Sharpton was on MSNBC last night making a commentary about this situation. Sometimes it is good to switch over from FOX.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  15. Meh

    meh im sure there is more to this story just like in Jenna the racial bias media will support this "person's" story because it looks to the whiney cry baby minority, and white apologist. Wait more will come out and then cnn will not cover it.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
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