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. david

    i hate white people

    July 27, 2011 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      We know....

      July 27, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Nick

      I admire that you would prove that racism is a 2 way street. In relation to the story at hand, I wonder if there would have been such upheaval if the Co-Val was also black......

      July 27, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Taioseach7

      @ David.

      Then your no better than those who discriminate.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • oKAYtHEN

      David, Don't hate people because the only thing that is going to happen is you are going to be upset and they want even care or notice. Just work hard and prove through your success that it is them that missed their true potential.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • JL

      Yeah, well we're not fond of you either. I like all people until they give me a reason and you just gave me a reason.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jennifer

    I understand that this girl had the higher GPA but I also understand about if other students are taking harder classes that should also be taken in to account. When I graduated high school we had between 10-20 Valedictorians and about the same number Salutorians. Plus if this girl was only interested in getting it so she would be classified as the sole Valedictorian should wouldn't be suing for money.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  3. Sun Stevens

    Kymberly Wimberly? Seriously? What in the world were her parents thinking when they saddled her with that cruel little rhyme. I guess maybe they were hoping she'd end up managing a Piggly Wiggly or something?

    July 27, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  4. Person1

    WOW. The real story here is that a public high school in Alabama has discovered the "last decimal point" WOW! I did not think there would be an end to the numbe rof possible decimals, but here it is. The south has risen again!! (in case you didn't notice, I am being sarcastic!)

    July 27, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Nick

      It took place in Arkansas....but your sarcasm is hilarious. Roll Tide 🙂

      July 27, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • kds

      Lol, you should learn your geography. Woo pig!

      July 27, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dr. H.K.

    In a civilized society people have the right to express disatisfaction regarding alleged faulty decisions. Meanwhile, in this way implementation of effective legal dialogue could could prevail, so that resolution could take place that would possibly compliment parties involved. Moreover, varied experts (Legal/Lay people) should take the opportunity to act as facilitators based on "Best Practices" which could alleviate this kind of situation in the future.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. TheMann

    Here we go again, playing the race game again...

    July 27, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  7. hippypoet

    oh my god, who really cares in 5 years or maybe even less this whole thing will be a distant memory...school , all schools, are there to set you up with skills and smarts to be a good human worker... you are meant to pick and choose classes that suit you and your hopefully future job... you are not there to cry about having to share a memory with a white kid... i think she the black girl may be a racist... but once again , who really cares.... half of all of us don't even want to go to back to our 10th yr reunion, why...because we reckonize that school was school, not real lifeand have more important things to be doing, AND don't live there your whole life because you choose to see things one way... remember this is just a moment in time, move aside and let it pass.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • DJL

      Because if you let discrimination fester, things will never change. And it could make a difference right now for college.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Yes, but the lesson she and others around her will learn about overcoming adversity and fighting for what's rightfully yours will last a lifetime.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark12345

      hippypoet, you are missing the bigger picture here. Holding back any students is doing a disservice. I was Valedictorian of my school (all white), and less than 10% went on to college because of the lack of academic encouragement from the staff. In this case it looks like a deliberate attempt to hold back the black students. If 46% of the school is minority, than a similar percentage should be in AP classes otherwise the school is failing.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      what i don't understand is she is still valedictorian...so what if there is a white kid next to her? she still gets the same credit and benefit from it as if she was the only one.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Shut Up Hippie! When have you ever worked or earned something? Did somebody take it away? Did you like it and say 'peace brother'? Why don't you just STFU and let this pass without your moronic comments?

      July 27, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Texasboy

      It's not "reckonize", you idiot.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • hippypoet

      DJL if you live like you know the world should be instead of trying to make small changes to places, people see that and act out against it or agree with it and start not following but being themselves.... this is what the world needs. doing the PC thing is retarded!

      July 27, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      this is like going to mcdonald's and claiming racism because they got my order wrong. she sounds smart so she should know that she can do what she wants...thats what her parents are for. people need to quit tossing parental problems on the education system. the class is available to them if they want it thats all that matters.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Retired Military in San Antonio

      Who cares in five years isn't important and isn't the point!

      What is important is that the student did the necessary work at the necessary level to earn the recognition. The fact that she had to share the recognition......for ANY reason.......with a student with a lower GPA......is just flat-out WRONG!

      I'd bet you'd be singing a different tune......if this had happened to you or your kid!

      July 27, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Retired- No, not really. as long as it says 4.0 next to my gpa who cares. colleges don't care about valedictorian and if the other girl took a harder schedule then it doesnt bother me at all. call me racist, but i have no problem with people sharing things no matter what color they are.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • misspsu

      To a young African American female, its very important to her and all the other African Americans looking up to her. It is true that in 10 years it will not be significant but because we as African American females are looked down upon it will always be significant 20, 30 even 50 years from now to her.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Thinker2000

      |The sun that God made shines the same for greeks, abysinians, italians, Gauls, Vikings,Celts,Persians,Jews, Egyptians, Chinese.. God never gave anyone a rigth to create ethnic secular nor class economic systems,or a right to try to shade truth!!

      July 27, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • hippypoet

      MARK, your point is well made but i believe that the information here is lacking being its extremely one sided.

      JOE, i make great money at writing, i am as my name states... a poet, i have made more doing this then from any JOB i have had or still do ( and yes i do work, 45 hr weeks every week)

      ah TEXASBOY, that was just sad... you almost made me cry with your mean comment about my spelling... sad little creature...

      July 27, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • strait

      What is your profession? This young lady strived to be the best. Regardless of race or the fact she comes from a single parent home doesn't matter,she strived for the best, she was the best, she should be recongized as the best. Case closed!Maybe your high school years sucked but that's you! This girl took her education seriously! She should be aplauded! GET STUCK OFF STUPID!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • hippypoet

      yup, another moron... there is no god, before you argue that there is a or many gods, please explain how we get past adam and eve... 2 sons, no one else in the garden... god never creates anything else – but cain after killing able gets a wife in the land of NOD. as for adam and eve, they have another son named seth... who carries the line of the savior, that was because able was the first carrier then he died. so how we got here was either thru incest (seth with eve) or we are the sons of the damned (cain) with his wife who he as the book says, "and cain met his wife" later is says " and she bore him children" nice way to paraphrase i guess!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • hippypoet

      @ strait
      i train animals, then when i go home... i train my kids lol... after they go to bed, i write tirelessly... sometimes works of crap, other times in my heart, great works that will one day be known as and spoken of in the same breath as Shakespeare... i hope 🙂

      July 27, 2011 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Retired Military in San Antonio

      Guest......the bottom line is that this girls had a higher GPA than her 'co-'valedictorian.

      Personally, I'd have an issue with earning an honor as being the 'best' and having to share it with ANYONE who achieved LESS than myself.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  8. Fartjar

    Usually it's the white kids snubbed because of race when it comes down to things like this

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

      And I'm going to listen to someone named "Fartjar". If that's not Middle Eastern, then you're an idiot.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Retired Military in San Antonio

      Actually fartjar......it's usually Black students who get snubbed like this in integrated schools in the South......Actually.....

      July 27, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      as much as people hate to hear it, things have changed. racism isn't gone but it's not prominent. the fact that she is still recognized as a valedictorian erases the racism argument...maybe the other girl was rich and paid the guy to make her the co-valedictorian.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Retired Military in San Antonio

      Wow Guest.....you're just making up excuses, now.

      Regardless of how/why this happened......it's wrong.

      Sad that you would make up silly scenarios to deflect from the fact this is wrong.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. mslman71

    Equal opportunity and representation. Too bad the one she shared it with wasn't black as well. Because the races are different it _must_ be about race.

    Well, I'm off to conspire about how to keep the black man down (have to put 3-6 hours/week into the club).

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

      Buddy, I know you're joking but racism is no joke and neither is being racially insensitive. You can laugh because more than likely you've never experienced it. When you do then you will understand. Educate yourself and take the time to understand from someone elses view. It will amaze you of what you will find..................that is if you care which I highly doubt it and the reason this country is where it's at................

      July 27, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    • RTC

      Awesome! CNN moderators keep erasing my comments because they are scared of big words. COME ON CNN, WHY ARE YOU ERASING MY COMMENTS.....man, that just be racist dawg!

      July 28, 2011 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. Texasboy

    This is AR-KIN-SAW!! Who expects any of this to make sense? You have to turn the civil rights clock back 50 years or so to understand the mentality here.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • dodger

      Texasboy why do all you come to Arkansas and use our parks & beautiful lakes if you don't like it. You must be a dumocrat just like our dumocrat govenor Mike Beebe. He should step in and do something as this is wrong, but then that would be asking a dumocrat to work & support a human being & dumocrats only care about money in their pockets. MIKE BEEBE being first in line.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • kds

      I agree with dodger. People from all over the country come to Arkansas to camp at our campsites and use our lakes and rivers. Anyway, I think everyone should have a look at this http://arkansasnews.com/2011/06/22/impossible-made-possible-at-rivercrest-high-2/

      July 27, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Haha, pot calling the kettle black eh Texas? If anyone would bother the read, the other girl had more credits then this other girl. She has an argument , but as many people have said, the race card is a bit much. IMO the more times people cry wolf, the longer racism will take to resolve. Many families have a chip on their shoulder and it rubs off on the children, so they look for things because they assume thats how things are

      July 27, 2011 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. skarrlette

    Who the hell has ever heard of TWO valedvictorians>????? I mean really. People need to learn to stop holding back African Americans. And Grow the F up!!!!!!!!!

    July 27, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • skarrlette

      Sorry for spelling hahah

      July 27, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      my class had 4 valedictorians...all with 4.0s

      July 27, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • RTC

      Holding African Americans back? How do you figure that? Affirmative Action is still in place and we have a black president....there are 4 major federal tuition grants that are available to only African Americans.... there is the NAACP, AAFEA, and UNCF that are all for African Americans only....oh... and there is Black Entertainment Channel, and Black Shopping Channel, and on and on and on and on. About the only thing the United States doesn't assist you in is smoking your weed....but I am sure the NAACP will take that fight up for you. Wait the ACLU has that covered in Florida now for you. Face it...this race card is getting old and eventually it will catch up to all of those playing it!

      July 28, 2011 at 6:34 am | Report abuse |
  12. Matt

    My high school ditched the concept of "valedictorian" some time ago; instead, teachers and guidance counselors do a nominate-and-vote process for a senior who gives a speech at the graduation ceremony.

    While some complain about the loss of the "tradition", the school had another reason. There have been cases of two (or more) graduates, each with perfect GPAs going all the way back to Kindergarten, and you suddenly get into a nasty fight of parents and lawyers pulling out things like Pre-K attendance records.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  13. McBears

    shes in the school, she has top grades, has a black president, drop the lawsuit, tear up the welfare check, stop complaining and go to work like the rest of us

    July 27, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Alyssa

      Welfare check? Where in this article did you read one thing about a welfare check? This girl is a student. Her mother at least is employed. No mention of welfare in the slightest.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • DJL

      I doubt your opinion would be the same if you were the one on the wrong end of discrimination.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    • NotwStupid

      Wow..because she is black her family is getting a welfare check. You obviously didn't read the story. Her parents work and support her academically. Although her complaint is childish, what would you expect from a child. Please drop the race baiting stuff we should be more evolved by now.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • kenny l

      welfare check? really? she needs to say something, she deserved it out right! she earned it. that distinction does matter, and YES, we have a black President, but that has nothing to do with it, she should shut up because of that? You are ridiculously ignorant, which is exactly why she is doing what shes is doing; her mom is a media specialist, i doubt she is on welfare!

      July 27, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
    • thisguy

      just plain ignorant

      July 27, 2011 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |

    This is the very reason that I will not live in a rednecked,backwoods,hick state as Arkansas.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. Kyle

    WAKE UP PEOPLE seams to think people should roll over and accept what the powers that be say without reservation. Go back to bed, America, your appointed officials have everything under control. Racism clearly isn't and hasn't never been an issue since the last day of the civil war. And if anyone claims that it is an issue they are obviously using a "race-card" and there couldn't be any logic or rationale behind it.

    Either you're spineless, or you're racist (with the racism probably driven by a lack of spine).

    July 27, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
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