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. Name*Elaine

    TJ I isn't that she was black it is because she had a baby. School districts in the Bible Belt don't want it to look like unwed mothers can get ahead. Wouldn't matter if she was white. No unwed mothers as prom queens or cheerleader

    July 27, 2011 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  2. Angela

    As is generally the case, this story cannot possibly present all the facts as it does not appear to present the schools position. However, it appears the school is not volunteering any information.

    When I was in high school, I participated in a special program to attend the local state college full-time in my senior year in lieu of AP classes as they are considered equivalent. I had a 4.0 that year. Incorporating this with my high school grades moved my class rank from 33 to 6. Our class validictorian's best fried was ranked 10th and would have fallen out of the top ten due to my increase in rank. The program I was in had unlimited openings and was available to all high school juniors and seniors in the state with a B or better average. However, the mom of daughter #1 went in and argued against changing my rank as I was the only participant from my high school in this program and the change was so dramatic. She won. But I wasn't told. I also missed national honor society as you had to be nominated by a teacher in your senior year and everyone seemed to forget I existed. Although, I agree high school is a long time ago, when people don't play by the rules they don't inspire everyone else to play by the rules. How can we expect society to stop producing deadbeats if we don't stop beating people down.

    As a side note, valetictorian got a full scholarship to a high class college. She dropped out her freshman year pregnant. I stuck with the state college that took me that year and graduated with honors. Karma.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. Bellabiv Devot

    Are racial relations really getting worse, or does CNN just make it seem that way?

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

      I believe they are getting worse, because of irresponsible politicians, parents, and the media. My thoughts are that they will push us into a frenzy once Obama is defeated. Honestly, I am ready for it because I would rather spill blood then listen to anymore race related whining.

      July 28, 2011 at 6:23 am | Report abuse |
  4. SW

    "Kymberly Wimberly, 18, earned the highest grade point average in McGehee Secondary School's 2011 graduating class. She did so as a young mother"

    Maybe being a young mother has more to do with appointing another student vs her claim that it has to do with race.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. unknown

    As long as people stay stuck in there ways and parents who were raised improperly by their parents keep teaching their children their wrong idealogy about race, discrimination etc....... there will always be a situation to look at such as this. Wrong is wrong and right is right and there is no in between. I this case, Ms. Wimberly should have had the opportunity to shine by herself. She worked hard to maintain a high GPA. When people run for president and all votes have been counted, if that person wins by one vote HE IS PRESIDENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WE CAN'T HAVE TWO PRESIDENTS BECAUSE THE OTHER ONE WAS TWO VOTES BEHIND THE WINNER!!!! I don't care if the difference was .01, give credit to where credit is due GOOD GRIEF!!!!! Let's teach our children fairness. How can they ever learn if we (the adults) keep showing them how to rob something from someone that's rightfully theirs?Some people don't ever care until the problem is in their own back yard!

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

    Good Luck, Kymberly Wimberly, getting into college or getting a job for the rest of your life. You may think this is golden opportunity to make a quick buck, but you will always be known as the girl who sues to make a buck. Colleges or employers aren't gonna want anything to do with you. You resumes and applications won't even be acknowledged out of [probably correct] fears that if you are turned down after your interview you will sue. If I was an employer and received your resume, the first thing I'd do is google your name and the second thing I'd do is shred your resume.

    And you may praise your parents for supporting your education, but I hope you are angry with your for naming you "Kymberly Wimberly"

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

      When the principal said he made a mistake in not naming the other student as a second valedictorian due to their Student Handbook, he was being honest. On page 12 of the McGehee High School Student Handbook, it states:

      Class Rank – "If two or more students take the same or equivalent course work and receive the same grades of "A", a student with a greater number of classes will not be penalized."

      Requirements for Valedictorian – "Students must be continuously enrolled at McGehee High School the last two semester without transferring during this time to be considered in class ranking or eligible for valedictorian status."

      July 27, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  7. Frank Stevens

    Didnt you Read the TeaParty Memo – This is the wave of the future, not the past, this is what is promoted by the Teaparty. And They are scared of the Teaparty!

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

      thanks for your amazingly intelligent comment frank. I dont really see a connection between the tea party and a young black woman taking easy classes and getting beat out by a person who took harder classes. GPA literally means nothing if you have little to back it up. For example a 4.0 student with a communications degree is worth nothing compared to a 3.0 engineering degree. I really dont see how race or the tea party is an issue here you left wing hill billy.....

      July 27, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Ryan: conjecture, you have no idea that the classes the other person took were harder – the only thing you know is that he/she took 1/2 credit more. That could've been an art class for all you know.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • ryan

      umm actually i do. AP classes are college level set by a national board. Regular classes do not teach the same subjects..... learn what your talking about before you start accusing. to make it easy for you ..... Algebra is easier than calculus which is an AP class.... DUH.....

      July 27, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Ryan: but aren't you making the assumption that more credit hours = more AP classes? That isn't necessarily true.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. donna

    What abount fairness? What about the principle of the situation? It's so disturbing to hear ignorant comments from these stupid low life writer. She has worked hard for the valedictiorian. How would you feel if you work hard and didn't receive a raise at your job. This valedictorian award is her raise from the hard work she put in. Yea, she should sue the school system in ARKANSAS, for the hell they put her and the family thru. Maybe I will help her setup a fund for her lawyer expensive. THE ARKANSAS SCHOOL BOARD WILL THIS TWICE BEFORE THEY TRY THIS AGAIN. AMEN

    July 27, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • sbp

      The fairness is she is STILL valedictorian, and somone else equally deserving is SHARING the honor. Weighted average ranking is not new. It's standard practice. Especially given the .02 GPA difference (which is what, one wrong answer on one test in 4 years of high school?), she should be more gracious. NOTHING WAS TAKEN FROM HER.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Debbie Meulenberg

      I am so sure that this had to do with her color. It always is when a person of olor (hehe) someone doesn't get what they want. Could it be she didn't attend that school when she was popping out a baby (illlegitimate no doubt.) Maybe they don't want her kind of trash representing the school. Spare me please...she wasn't as smart, it is that simple.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • ryan

      well she didnt work as hard as the other person considering she didnt take all AP classes. A 4.0 from a community college doesnt hold nearly the weight a 3.5 gpa at a good state school holds

      July 27, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • sbp

      Debbie, assuming she wasn't as smart is an ignorant supposition. You don't get the highest GPA by being a remedial student. That's not the point. The point is on a weighted basis, the other valedictorian was marginally better. The difference was so insignificant, that sharing the honor was entirely appropriate.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Debbie Meulenberg

      sbp she wasn't content with sharing the honor. She wantes it all to herself. Can't get what you want, then just sue. It is the american way for blacks.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Debbie Meulenberg

      The point is on a weighted basis, the other valedictorian was marginally better. The difference was so insignificant, that sharing the honor was entirely appropriate.
      Unless it was the other way around.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • BriVigilante

      I agree. Regardless of race, anyone who works that hard deserves their due recognition.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Debbie: Actually that's the American way for Americans. Lawsuits are the process by which individuals and corporations can attempt to change or correct a law or policy. The process exists for a reason, and white people use it for the same purposes everyday (major corporations suing each other and the government for any number of reasons that will get them a larger slice of the pie), yet you have a problem with black people using it? Interesting.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • ryan

      I dont think she has a problem with Americans using the law system to correct a wrong..... but come on this girl is suing for 70,000 for nothing. She took easier classes and got beat out by a weighted grade. What is this girl gonna do when she gets an easy college degree from a community college and is mad because for some reason the state school students are getting jobs she applies for. ITS LIFE.... Things are weighted. I hire many young aspiring kids a month and a large number come in with great GPAs and poor degrees. she needs to learn sometime.....

      July 27, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Debbie Meulenberg

      Yeah, Kyle, you are correct, that 75,000 dollars will change the school system. if nothing else it will give her a free ride to college. Maybe the white girl should give the honor to the black girl so that she can sue for 75,000 and get a free ride for college. Hell, maybe she can also have a baby and get a free ride from the government as well. Yeah, Yeah, thats it.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      "Yeah, Kyle, you are correct, that 75,000 dollars will change the school system."

      It probably will, actually. After costing the district $75,000 the principal will most likely be replaced and district wide policies will be enacted to prevent another $75,000 fiasco.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • wow

      amen

      July 27, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Josoc

    Wimberly's actions just prove she does not deserve to be a valedictorian after all. Assuming her assertions are right, putting a money value to it is just plain wrong.

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

      Punitive damages exist as a punishment. The school should have to pay some kind of a price for making the mistake, should she win. Otherwise what's to deter them from doing it again?

      July 27, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Josoc

      Yes Kyle, an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. If she was wronged, would an apology from the school not suffice?

      July 27, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • HMB

      WRONG? Why is she wrong when she is faced with such an unfair situation – why don't you put yourself in her place and see how you would feel if the shoe was on the other foot – this is just plain wrong and I bet if she was white we will not be dealing with this situation.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Debbie Meulenberg

      Amen to that.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Debbie Meulenberg

      I want to use the race card. I am clear, you know, not a person of color, whatever the fk that means. Can i scream racism?

      July 27, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      I don't know, maybe it would maybe it wouldn't. If I stole a dollar from you, would an apology suffice? How about 2 dollars? What about $100,000?

      Where exactly are we drawing the line? Unfortunately you have to provide people with motivation to change – they won't just do it because you say pretty please. You have to have consequences for actions, and unfortunately issuing an empty apology is a fairly simple task. If it were that simple, the school would simply continue to enforce this policy and just issue an apology every time. Why not, right? It's not affecting them in any other way.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • NASSEE01

      Her GRADES prove that she deserves to be the valedictorian. You are a total idiot!!!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Also, are you advocating complete unconditional forgiveness in all areas of life, or just where you think it should be? IE should murders just be made to apologize and then released? Or are you drawing some arbitrary and subjective line somewhere?

      July 27, 2011 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Josoc

      Kyle, get past the material stuff, will yah? And to Nassee01, the fact she got the GPA to become valedictorian reflects fairly on her school. If the school is as bad as she paints it to be, she would not have been given the grades she got in the first place.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Get passed yourself and answer the question. Fine, let me restate.

      If I murder your daughter, would an apology suffice? What if I only stabbed her? What if I just punched her? Pinched her? Where's the line?

      July 27, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      To clarify my other point you completely missed: WITHOUT ANY FORM OF PUNISHMENT, WHAT WILL MOTIVATE PEOPLE TO NOT REPEAT THEIR WRONGDOINGS? Motivation is a very real thing. It's what drives our decision making process. If you don't augment a persons motivation you won't change their decision making process and they will continue to do the same things over and over again.

      It's easy to win a debate when you simply ignore what the other side is saying, isn't it?

      July 27, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      "putting a money value on it is wrong"
      "eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind"
      "get passed the material stuff"

      Yay for baseless rhetoric!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Josoc

      It's no use debating with someone who doesn't know an apple from an orange.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Once again, no substance from you. Rather than make any kind of point, or string any thoughts together, you choose to retreat behind some empty red-herring. Good day to you.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ghags

    This is what we teach our kids if you lose cry someone will listen, play any card you can. The sore loser the race card, the more you cry the more people will listen. What I have to say is TIME TO GROW THE FK UP. ITS CALLED LIFE!!!!!

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

      America is about your right to fight for what's yours. Last I checked, she not crying. She's going through the proper legal channels to right a wrong. What fault do you see with her using the legal system to change a policy she thinks is wrong? I suppose women should've just stopped crying during sufferage, and just accepted life. Same with South Africans during apartheid and the Irish around the turn of the century in America. Bunch of whiners, right?

      Grow a spine, buddy.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Gells

      ghags – if you consider this complaining for the sake of complaining, then I don't have any respect for you. Open your eyes and understand the true context of this story. You and others on this comment board are what is wrong with America.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • yeahright123

      How could you read this and not think it was about race? Her GPA was higher, she DESERVES this, and they are refusing to give it to her. It is absolutely because she is black, that part is obvious.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • life

      good point... you need to grow and shut the fk up...

      July 27, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • HMB

      Hope you feel that way when you or someone you care about is faced with such an unfair situation – what a selfish bunch of people who live in their own little world with no regard for other human beings until their own little world comes crashing down on them – she does not have to play the race card – she has all the evidence to prove that she made those grades – this is just plain wrong you IDIOT!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. mouse

    she has my sympathy ... right up to the point she expects money for this.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  12. Pappa Smurf

    Just because she was Valedictorian does not mean she was going to get a scholarship and just because you are not Valedictorian of your class doesn't mean you don't get a scholarship.

    If you score a 27 on your ACT and are Val. of your class you are not going to get a scholarship.

    I ranked 12th in my class and still got a partical scholarship because I scored a 33 on my ACT.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jo

    Not sure if I'd agree with Kimberly that this was racially motivated. I congratulate her, but I don't think she should be playing the race card and play victim, and make all the blacks of her whole school victims. AP classes are rigorous and it's appropriate to let that be known to those who could have a difficult time. Whether it's black or white, if someone didn't have a good GPA then as a teacher I would let them know it's tough. If they had a good GPA, then I would let them know they could do it and it wouldn't be too difficult for them. It's not about race, but it's about the student's ability. I would imagine Kimberly go the latter treatment, even though she was black. Why is she asking for $75k on top of it? Is she trying to make money here?

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

      Shut up! Black people do not care about what you THINK should had or had not been done. There is no such thing as a "RACE CARD" Who ever is the very best should win period. Why does the rules of the game always have to be so different and change when BLK people are involved. SMH at YT, you never cease to amaze.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  14. Chungy

    I didn't realize that having kids "just happens". Second, I never made one comment about race. She should just shut up and move on. If the school is so bad, then just get out of there. Go to college, raise her kid (remember to keep those legs closed! so it doesn't "happen" again), and quit wasting time/$ in the courts.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Kyle

    You know what solves all of these problems? Consistency and clear expectations.

    The school should make the valedictorian criteria extremely clear and it shouldn't be a matter of any one person's judgement. If you have the higher GPA, you win. Or weight the GPAs. I really don't care, just be consistent. But simply leaving it up to the principal to decide that someone else has had it harder is clearly a flawed process. I hope we can all agree on that.

    I find it interesting that the people on here saying that she should be quiet and accept what has happened are the same people that whine about having a "socialist" president who they claim wants to implement policies exactly like the ones they are supporting here. Perhaps you should heed your own advice?

    July 27, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • sbp

      Yes, there should have been a clear policy consistently applied. But she still should not have complained. Nothing was taken from her – she is still valedictorian. I was co-valedictorian – the school selected one on straight average, the other weighted average. But both of us were neck and neck anyway. It would have been petty to begrudge the honor to someone who was clearly equivalent to me. Kimberly should learn to be more gracious.

      If there is systemic "steering" of minorities away from challenging classes, THAT is an issue worth fighting over. Not a .02 difference in GPA.

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

      I agree with you.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      The only thing I would say is that whether by an inch, or a mile, a win is a win.

      I don't think the Olympics should be giving out gold medals to everyone that got "really close" to the actual winner. It sets a bad precedent. Like I said, either use weighted values, or don't.

      Losing is a valuable and important lesson – if you actually do lose. Clearly winning, but being told that you lost, creates the opportunity for you to learn a valuable lesson. Being quiet about it only teaches you to be a doormat.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Keep in mind that the weighted GPA is a flawed system. It works against students who take more overall credits than another student, even if both those students both got straight A's and both took the same number of AP classes. That is why you need to look beyond GPA when determining class rank. This school took into account that the other student had more credits than Kymberly, and rightly so.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Michael:

      I agree that taking a larger course load should be factored in, at least in my opinion. Then use unweighted GPAs. Like I said, it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is consistency so all players involve know what's expected and can plan accordingly.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
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