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. Mark n Terri

    My wife had a very similar issue occur…she was a teen mom, and the National Junior Honor Society would not accept her…she carried a 4.0 during her senior year, and she was active in sports and clubs. Nor teachers or school officials encourage or reward taking responsibility of teen pregnancy. Choosing to “keep the child” is discouraged to the fullest extent. Oh, she is white.
    I think this has more to do with continuing to discourage teen mothers taking responsibility while out performing every single one of their perspective peers.
    Good job to her…and she should be the only Val

    July 27, 2011 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. The TRUTH

    ITS, ARKANSAS!!!!!!! ITS THE SOUTH,NO RACE CARD, but RACISM. Its 2011 GIVE IT UP!!!!!!! Racism STINKS CHRISTIANS...

    July 27, 2011 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. Duane

    If she was that smart then why does she have a baby? Stupid is as stupid does.......:0)

    July 27, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
  4. larry

    Let's put the racial comments aside and deal with facts. Did she have the highest GPA? Yes or No? YES. Then she should be validictorian. If there is a weighted system based upon classes that are considered "harder" should not the grading scale reflect it?

    July 27, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Tyler

      It is obvious that you are all missing the point of this story. The girl's mother named her Kymberly Wimberly. Can you imagine the harrassment she faced at school because of her name? haha

      July 27, 2011 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Diana

      When I was in high school, an A+ in an AP class yielded a 5.2, rather than a 4.0. Our Valedictorian became so obsessed with his GPA, that he appealed to be excused from taking his required P.E. credits because he couldn't get more than a 4.0 in a class like that. I thought he was taking the GPA thing a little far....

      July 27, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. Callie Melton

    She chose to have the baby that often time others abort or place for adoption. This baby may have been the inspiration for the extremely high intelligence that apparently is not necessary for the white peers.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
  6. Will

    It might or might not have to do with race, but it definitely smells bad. She sounds like a great kid and I hope she gets the full recognition that she deserves...

    July 27, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. Stephanie

    My brother was one of SIX valedictorians, although he got almost all A pluses, while other people got mostly straight A's. He never once complained.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      A = 4.0, A+ = 4.0. so he has no reason to complain, but good on him.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Jimbo

      Was he Asian?

      July 27, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • IronicPenny

      That's because an A+ has the same score as an A in a GPA

      July 27, 2011 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Jimmy

      Maybe he should have complained. As an educator, students are always rewarded academically for what they have earned. If your brother's scores/grades were higher than other students, he should not have to share his award. This is beyond my comprehension. There is something fishy about this whole situation. If this girl had the highest grades in the school, in my opinion, she should not have to share her status. When I make a bonus for my class scoring the highest academically in the district, I do no share my bonus money.......Even if another teacher's scores are almost as good as mine. They have to match or be better, or we have a problem.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
    • LolaS

      I don't know where all you other people went to school, but I have NEVER seen an A+ and an A being the same grade points. From high school through 3 degrees. NEVER. Maybe when you got your GED, but certainly not in the real grading system.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • stacy

      let me guess.....your brother is white.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • IronicPenny

      @ LolaS, yes, in a REAL grading system. A is a 4.0, and down from there, nothing above it. If you went to a school that gave higher than a 4.0, they're inflating their grades to look better to universites.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Stephen

      An A does not get the same as an A+. What school did you go to? Not to mention that AP classes also give students an extra 1.0 on the GPA so its normal to have the top GPA to be WELL above a 4.0

      Grade Grade Range GPA
      A+ 98-100 =4.3
      A 93-97 =4.0
      A- 90-92 =3.7

      July 27, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. Frank Castle

    Will someone please inform the principal that it is 2011...Geoorge Wallace is not the Govenor of Alabama...The CIVIL RIGHTS BILL was passed. I am disgusted that WE will NOT see the END to all this BITTERNESS in OUR LIFETIME. Something SO SMALL lke 2% of our DNA actually makes up COLOR in OUR SKIN. Maybe we should have been born BLIND...this way what our EYES can't see our BRAINS won't conceive any THOUGHTS our HEARTS can't BELIEVE.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Theheroguy

      Not to be a dick but if something's dna differed from any human by 2% it wouldn't be even remotely human.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • stacy

      have you lost your mind. The south goes out of its way to advance blacks and minorities. I live here and see if everyday in the work place. I would be nice of blacks moved on and stopped thinking that just because something didn't go their way that it's racism. Really.....George Wallace comments in 2011?? Did you know that George Wallace carried the black vote in his last election as Governor??? Guess not.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. J-Dub

    I think we're all missing the point here – her parents named her Kymberly Wimberly. Who does that?! That's right up there with a family surnamed Stephens, naming their child, Steven.
    But seriously – sad story. Hopefully there will be some more uncovering of the truth – can't take sides until we hear both.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
    • LolaS

      Too funny

      July 27, 2011 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Baker1

      Based on your comment about her name, I guess we know which side you'll be falling into....Her name has nothing to do with the subject.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • stacy

      As someone that deals with lawsuits on a daily bases......there is always two sides to every story. CNN didn't go the responsible thing (waiting for facts) they went with the part of the story that promotes racism. Good one CNN.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Rubadubdub

      I just noticed that! Kimberly Wimerley! Hilarious!

      July 27, 2011 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. HW

    where is my comment?

    July 27, 2011 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. dave

    Interesting. Where does she get $75,000 from though?

    July 27, 2011 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  12. lahunjah

    For people saying to blacks, 'everything is not about race' – give us credit for having some discernment. You don't know how many incidents we let slide WITHOUT speaking out. Also, it's ironic if you look at comments posted on any black news story, from various papers across the country, they are almost always negative – yet whites talk about their racism being non-existent. If whites are tired of hearing blacks respond to racism, imagine how tired we are of actually EXPERIENCING it. Whites tend to con-volute the issues. There may be a story about black farmers being discriminated against, but they'll start talking about the way blacks dress. I don't know if it's more stupid that whites try to convince blacks there is no racism FROM THEM (when we see it clearly), or the phony denial. Give it up, we see through it.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Convolute is not spelled with a dash.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • anddddddd

      please dont comment again looking for sympathy. black people are just as racist if not more than white people.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
    • stacy

      how about you stop looking for racism in everything said and done by whites. I could do the same; as I watch blacks promoted to jobs that they are not qualified to have, or get in schools that they are not qualified to be in. My son got a 29 on his ACT in 10th grade, had a 3.85 GPS and the application for the "public" school I tried to enroll him in application ask this....Race, Black or all other. Really??? My son didn't get in because he's not black. Do talk to me about veiled attempts to hide racism.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
  13. Raymond

    May as well face it, BLACKS ARE CURSED !!!

    July 27, 2011 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. Diana

    This makes me sad. I graduated HS in 1988. In Denver – not exactly known as being a racist hotbed. And yet, at that time black students were discouraged from AP classes in the same way that this student is describing now. Having witnessed this sort of thing in my own high school experience, I have no doubt that her observations are accurate. I applaud her for bringing the issue to light and hope she wins her fight.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • stacy

      How do you know they were discouraged? We you there when an adviser told a black student that they should not take AP course because they were black? You taking this students side of the story and believe it to be the only truth of the story.....CNN, Great work promote racial problems.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  15. Courtney

    Who's to say its about race or not...but my problem is why does she think she deserves to be paid?

    Why can't she accept a formal apology if the school was wronged. Its just high school. Move on and go to college.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
    • RichG

      The initial story from yesterday say's that she had a child in her junior year, and some think she's having to share the honor because of her behavior.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Diana

      I give the girl credit for focusing attention on the issue of preferential placement of white students in AP classes. Her suit is not just about her valedictorian status. I hope she wins the money too.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
    • stacy

      Thanks, what are her damages? It looks like she still got to give a speech and get her name in the paper. I bet her great mom and dad have no college money and she's not no scholarships lined up and they see this as their college fund.

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