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. keith

    She is starting out young at being a big cry baby . Boo Hoo. Need a Kleenex?

    July 27, 2011 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. Alex

    After studying quite a bit of Black Politics/Racial and Gender stereotyping in college I am usually the first one to jump on the school district/abusers, but in this case I think the student is searching for a way to get money and probably wasn't wronged.

    There are real cases of racial injustice that we need to fight, not this nonsense where somebody was given "co-valedictorian" status. As for the AP Classes, my high school was in the North, the school was 20% Black, yet only 2 or 3% of the AP classes had Black students in them. This wasn't due to racism but the students' own decisions.

    This girl seems like a single Mom looking for a way to get money. I don't blame her for trying to provide for her child, but let's keep the race card for instances where there is a bit more for which to fight.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. Texasboy

    We're talking about ARKANSAS. We need to turn the civil rights clock back at least 50 years to understand the mentality here.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. Smitty Werbenjaegermanjensen

    Mmmm hmmmm....y'all jess mad cuz she smart. (snap) Where my phone at!

    July 27, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bigwavedave

    Grading is a joke, especially in High School where some teachers will knock points off your tests just because they don't like you for the way you dress, look, act, ect. Until tests are graded purely off of a computer, and not a judgmental teacher I wouldn't put too much value into GPA, ect. This woman looks like she is trying to dig for money more than anything else.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. But...

    you sound like such a lovely person who is having a happy life


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

    I was in AP classes.. our grades were ranked for the purpouses of class ranking. Sounds like the school made the fair call.

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

    Chungy, your miserable life is evident in every bit of your comment. It would be laughable if your weren't so very pathetic.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. Job

    When are you people going to stop using the "Race Card". It's old, ugly and ridiculas! First of all if we all remember we lowered test scores so the minorities can pass classess. That wasn't racist towards whites:? Now we have to bow to them when they graduation? Give me a Break Grow up!

    July 27, 2011 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Maude

      You need some serious help. We never lowered test scores so minorities can pas classes. By the way it is the white race who will termed " minorities" in 20 years. Live with that freak.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  10. Hazel

    I completely understand her wanting full credit for what she accomplished, but where does money come into all of this? Just because someone has wronged you, doesn't mean you deserve monetary compensation.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      If you ran over my dog and I took your house away from and lived in it, you'd be careful not to run over my other dog,

      July 27, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • pete1322

      Look up the definition of punitive damages.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Ema

      Has anyone forgotten about the cost of a college education? Earning the honor of class valedictorian opens the doors to numerous scholarship opportunites which she deserves. I think 75K is just. Her high school is taking away her chance of scholarship money by devaluing her achievements. Thats how I view this. For people who think shes viewing this as a 'golden opportunity' maybe you've never been to college to know how costly it is or worked extremely hard in high school, only to have your accomplishments viewed as inferior because of the color of your skin.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Joseph

      Just another person looking for a payday. It may look a little more legitimate if she didn't as for $75k.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      You are absolutely right. Money isn't a punishment!
      Demand public execution of the one that wrongs you, who steals your rights.
      Since punitive awards isn't right, public torture should be permitted.
      Or some other idiocy.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Carolyn

      When the principal said he made a mistake in naming only one valedictorian because of the student handbook academic requirements for valedictorian, he was being honest. On page 12 of McGehee's Student Handbook, it states:

      In the Class Rank regulations: "If two or more students take the same or equivalent course work and receive the same grades of "A", a student with a geater number of courses will not be penalized."

      In the Valedictorina regulations: " 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 (sic) for valedictorian status."

      July 27, 2011 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jray84

    why do blks and liberals always scream insults at those who disagree with them? I don't have any problem with black people I just feel most of their problems with education and unemployment isn't due to racism. Its a mixture of socialist welfare policies that keep people dependent as well as a hopelessness or resentment towards white people and having to work for white people that hurts blks in education and the workforce. Why is it that because I don't believe in the big bad white racist boogeyman I'm considered a racist or stupid.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • my46th

      racism deniers are so silly 🙂 c'mon people, get your head out of your shorts and acknowledge the problem. then we can solve it. why is it so hard for white people to admit they've got a leg up on people of color?

      July 27, 2011 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Black People

      'I don't have any problem with black people' Liar.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Jarod

      Jray84, lets get one thing straight. There are more WHITES ON WELFARE than there are any other race (check the stats yourself – by sheer numbers, not sample population). So goes the story with number of high school drop outs, AIDs, etc (sheer numbers mind you)... Your point makes NO SENSE. It would serve you well to learn more about American demographics and the studies related to it... p.s., I am white.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Craog

      Because you probably are a racist.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  12. BadNamePolice

    Her parents named her "Kymberly Wimberly"? Wow...

    July 27, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • thundercat


      July 27, 2011 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Sheila

      Good catch –

      July 27, 2011 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      This is by far the best comment on here! Way to be BadNamePolice!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  13. civitas

    I guess the first thing she learned was how to file a racial discrimination lawsuit.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Black People

      Instead of learning to lie down and take it?

      July 27, 2011 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Why, you are absolutely right! She should have laid down and take it.
      Then, burn the superintendent's and principal's homes to the ground, right?
      Seeking redress of grievances with one's government IS EVIL! NO CONST I TUTIONAL RIGHTS ARE ALLOWED IN THE FASCIST STATES OF AMERICA!

      July 27, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  14. jahmyrr

    ""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).""

    I call BS. They dont just stick white kids in AP classes because they are white. Then expect them to opt out of them. I actually felt there might be something to this case till i read this statement. Blanketing all white people into one bold statement such as this is in itself vile. I would expect someone as smart as this to recognize that. She wanted to sit on top of the school by herself and is now just upset she had to share the honors.

    White people do not get everything handed to them. The sooner people start to realize that, the better of we will be as a WORLD. Does racism still exist, without question. But it goes both ways. There is just as many racist non-whites as there are whites so dont tell me anything. There is no scholarship just for being white. But there is for other nationalities. Is that fair or right? Should I complain thats anti-white?

    give it a rest already. you have the world ahead of you and your stuck on this? rather than cry and go sue happy, do something about it. become a politician in your area and fix the situation (if it truly exists). Dont just cry "poor me give me money on behalf of my skin color"....

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

      It looks like the facts presented in this story are worth fighting. If you think about it, she is fighting in her community for making things right. The money is secondary now since she does not have it, but the purpose of the suit might change things in Arkansas – much like politician would do. The $75K would get their attention.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Meetra

      Paint your face black and see what happens if you go into a department store. Not only will sales people not give you the time of day, but security will be watching your every move..... even if you are dressed to the nines!! Or go to a restaurant and see how friendly your waiter is to you... there are several everyday activities you can watch and see that socially, whites are treated better than other people of color, not just African Americans. Blacks aren't always treated very badly, but it is clear that whites are always treated better. You cannot comment on what you have not experienced or clearly observed in an educated way. Look for and read literature on the concept of White Privilege, for some reason, the whole of society (even internationally) looks at whites differently than people of color.

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

      I'll be the first to tell anyone who asks that there are self-defeating systems in place that the black community is solely responsible for. but you can't say that there arent societal and governmental failures that have exacerbated the same issues.

      I don't think anyone should have to sit down and just take racism either. Racism doesn't have to be blatant and overt for it to actually be racism.

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

      @jahmyrr I understand your general point but here's the problem... If someone doesn't get their attention in dramatic fashion, then more than likely the behavior is repeated. It's unfortunate, but when officials acting in accordance with State or Local laws wrong someone, you have to shake the tree a bit.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. Miles

    If the facts presented in this story are true, this young, bright, stereotype-breaking young girl needs to forge ahead and get her due. The real story here: The impact that active and supportive parents make in the life of children. As a young mother, Kymberly had additional challenges, and with a sound support system from her parents she is a winner! Keep going Kymberly!

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