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. John

    If she was really that smart she shouldn't have had the illegitimate child.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • The Guy

      Glad you think you've got the right to judge another person on their personal decisions.
      This girl is probably half your age and can debate circles around your ignorant as-s.

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

      John must be setting there with a dictionary! He spelled illegitimate correctly! WOW

      July 27, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  2. RichG

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

    July 27, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • The Guy

      To your point, from this piece it sounds like there's nothing in her school's handbook about behavior effecting her status as valedictorian... Sounds to me like the school board is making up rules to give them their desired outcome...

      July 27, 2011 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. Peaches

    I would like to say that they need to get there facts together and do what's right...if she earned it...give to her...It don't matter what color she is..It's time out for this dumb stuff!!! God is tired of all this mess.. He is soon to come!! We need to pray more and have Faith... and we wonder why our kids are dropping out of school!!

    July 27, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • RichG

      He is soon to come? People have been saying that for years.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • The Guy

      I'm not sure of the direct correlation between praying and kids staying in school. Think you might be off a bit, Peaches.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. Proud to be an American

    She likely got good grades because of affirmative action in the grading process. She didn't earn those good grades, but they were given to her to keep blacks from rioting at the school. Its all part of the white and asian peoples burden to build up the self esteem of black people.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      I wonder how valedictorian is some how with $75,000. Last time I checked it wasnt worth squat. Just another person trying to get money.

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

      Affirmative action with grades???

      July 27, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Thanks for proving why some people believe affimative action is still required.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer Gagne

      It sounds to me like her mom, because she works for the school, heard that her daughter had the highest "unweighted" GPA, and that she found this out before the school then weighed the grades (they weigh grades so that kids who take harder classes aren't penalized for getting an A- if another kid, taking a normal class gets an A... it makes SENSE to do it this way). So because her mom works as the media person for the school, she went ahead and announced her daughter as valedictorian in the public newspapers before she even had authorization to do it. And that's why it would cause "a mess". And now she is making a case about race so that she'll have $75K for college. That's how I read this, and it makes me angry that somebody can manipulate the system (and people) this way. I think CNN should be ashamed for publishing this article without all the facts. It may very well NOT be about race at all.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • bburn

      So you build up your self esteem by tearing down someoe else. Ignorance and hatred breeds stupidity!!!!

      July 27, 2011 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Morgan

      Nonsense. She clearly has an involved parent, and having an involved parent goes a long way towards getting better grades. Also, she WAS taking AP courses. Did you even read this article?

      July 27, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Alan

      Somebody with exactly that kind of thinking just killed dozens of people in Norway.

      That wasn't enough of a wake up call for you, you hate-mongering piece of trash?

      July 27, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Stephen

      How do you know her grades bumped up because of Affirmative Action? Your claim is a gross assumption without evidence or warrant. For all we know, the article does not state that Affirmative Action anywhere and therefore we can assume that it has nothing to do with Wimberly's valedictorian status.

      Sure her claim that the school is racist might be a gross assumption, but that does not ignore her accomplishments that led her to be valdictorian.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • That Soldier

      Its sad that you would think that. People like yourself is what makes this country look bad. I am black and proud. One thing that i hate is that I have to go to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight for peole like you. Blacks are just as intelligent as white people but we have struggles that whites, well most whites dont have to deal with. You probably wont know nothing about that! Peace you racist and be a man and put on this Army Combat Uniform and fight beside us blacks, litanos, mexicans and whites.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • notaffirmativeaction

      Are you kidding me? So, if a black person does well its affirmative action? Could it be because they deserve it and work hard for it? Go back to your kkk party and shut the hell up. You sound like you are uneducated and blaming everything on affirmative action.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  5. Peaches

    The same mess happen in Milford Delaware!!!

    July 27, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. Really?

    There was an issue similar to this awhile back when the student with the highest GPA was a distance learner, and everyone felt that the valedictorian should have actually attended the school. I don't really see what the importance is of sharing the valedictorian status. Honestly, in 10 years, it won't make a difference to you anymore. If lawsuits like these keep coming up, they will inevitably do away with the tradition of naming a valedictorian.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • BBoy

      It's an issue because she is the proper valedictorian. She EARNED that right. You only have one shot to be valedictorian of her class. Why should Black students be relegated to only being "co-valedictorians," while White students don't have to share?

      July 27, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      BBoy,

      Actually they do share and to be honest, who cares. Valedictorian is probably one of the most insignificant achievements (if you can call it that) that anyone will ever have in their life. It's a joke.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  7. ZMEEKER

    'Gathen said the Wimberly's co-valedictorian had half a credit more than Wimberly '. End of story.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      She had a higher GPA, end of story.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. Harry

    !

    July 27, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. John

    The only person in this situation complaining about race is the girl. First of all, she will still be able to refer to herself as the Valedictorian of her high school class as far as possible colleges are concerned. Another thing is that the article clearly states that there is policy in place that says student rankings will be based on grades, however, if another student has taken more credits or more difficult courses, they will not be penalized by lower grades. Maybe the mother and daughter should work on getting this policy changed instead of suing the school for $75k. I think it says more about her poor moral standards in her suing the school and playing the race card than for the school administrator appointing a co-Valedictorian who HAPPENS to be white. Would her and her mother's complaints be just as severe had the newly appointed co-Valedictorian also been black? Who knows but from the quotes in this story, the race thing seems to be the motivating factor. If it is solely about academic performance or a poorly written policy we would have seen the student bring this up. Another thing...if the school district is roughly 46% black as she says, then why would it be so taboo to have a black Valedictorian? Seems to me there would roughly be a 50% chance of that happening each year. This story is BS. The fact that she is black has nothing to do with the situation and the fact that her being a mother has nothing to do with the situation. Good job on getting good grades. I am sure that it was difficult with having a small child. Now, get over yourself and accept responsibility that by making a poor decision that resulted in you having a child, a LOT of things in life are going to be more difficult. It is not society's responsibility to applaud you every time you accomplish something and it sure as hell isn't anyone's responsibility to PAY you every time you don't get the attention you deserve.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
    • JoeShmoe

      John... get over yourself, your jealousy is boring.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      Joe,

      I fail to see how John was at any point talking about himself. Do you know how to read? Maybe you should ask the girl in the article to tutor you, help pay for her kid.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • BruDog

      Well said!

      July 27, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  10. MF Jones

    Yall a bunch a racists, a black is smarter than yall, and yall can't handle it!!

    July 27, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      Clearly a troll. No one would venture to make a point about being smarter while using ghetto grammar. 😉 Caught ya!

      July 27, 2011 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Harry

      She was smarter than a small group of white kids in southeastern Arkansas. Massive accomplishment for this young lady. LOL! What is your definition of "yall"? FAIL.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • RTC

      Guess that formal penitentiary education that so many black men strive for is finally paying off, huh? It's nice to see you take a moment away from raising your kids and share with us though. Oh wait...that's right, black men don't take care of their kids do they? It's so hard to tell considering the "cool" image for a black man is a drug dealing thug who spends more on his car stereo than the car itself. Until the black culture moves past blaming everything on slavery, they will always find the world to be "against" them and feed into this image. Racism and Prejudice are considered the same, but in fact they are not the same. Because of the constant whining of blacks when they do something wrong and the use as slavery as a crutch for everything.....Prejudice is on the rise....people have pre-conceived notions about blacks using race as the basis for everything... and they do...this article is a prime example!

      July 28, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. Nickjr

    " She did so as a young mother" .....did she take off time to have a child? I think that might be the issue here. If she was out on maternity leave and it affected her attendance...is that the issue vs. her race?
    In all honesty...if she did have a child, while maintaining the highest GPA in the class – that is truly amazing. But she is in a category all on her own, and incomparable to the rest of the students...negative or positive. It is, what it is.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      You don't get "maternity leave" in school. Likely her parents took care of the child the majority of the time. She's clearly not that smart to be getting preganant out od wedlock in high school. Pathetic to be honest. Maybe the fact that she couldnt keep her legs closed is why she is now a "co-val"

      July 27, 2011 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. WVLady63

    Guess she needs money to support her illegitimate child.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Cherri

      WOW! Really? That was very unnecessary!

      July 27, 2011 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      it is true

      July 27, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Craig

      So does Bristol Palin. So whats your point?

      July 27, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  13. Stevareeno

    Knowing this area as well as I do, none of this surprises me.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  14. MF Jones

    Blacks gonna rule this country!!! Black power!! Black power!!!

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

      1. you're a racist 2. you're completely wrong

      July 27, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  15. Old Fool

    Jim Crow is alive and well and making us look like @sses in the eyes of the world. Shame on us. I think there is a small vocal element of white people scared to death of becoming a minority in a country that has been mostly white since the days of the American Revolution. They fear being treated the way they have treated minorities for centuries. I am a white man who embraces divdersity. I recommend you try it.

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