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. Susan

    Wow!!!! What comments on this site. No wonder this country is falling apart. This student has the right and has earned this right to be honored as an outstanding student. Her name, marital status or anything else has nothing to do with the fact that she is an outstanding student. She should move on to a good college, learn and become a useful member of society, unlike those people who have tried to stop her.

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

      While that is true, the honor is not being taken from her. She is SHARING it with someone equally deserving. Most schools use a weighted average system that takes course difficulty into account. The difference in unweighted GPA was .02. That's nothing. Sharing the honor does not diminish what she did in any way.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  2. teamroper

    A lot of sole valedictorians commit suicide...look it up!

    July 27, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  3. Joe

    If she earned it, she earned it. At the same time, being #1 at an AR school is hardly worth bragging rights. Go prove yourself in college now. College is what matters, not public high school.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. lashell

    Outrageous......in this era we still conten with racial behavior.

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

      When blacks learn to live like normal people instead of barbarians.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. Aimhigh

    When things don't go as planned or if someone doesnot like your ideas it is so easy to throw the "race card" as a factor. Good debate, good discussion leads to better ideas.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  6. Cristie

    Sounds to me like the other girl worked just as hard but had an extra class that didn't get extra points and therefore the GPA was slightly lower. My best friend had a similar situation in high school as some of the commenters... she was #2 in the class because #1 was only taking AP and honors classes at the high school and was taking courses at the community college for the rest of his credits. But at the end of the year the school ended up naming her valedictorian anyway because all of her classes were at the school.

    What I like about the article, and the lawsuit, is the visibility of the racism inherent in the AP system...
    when I was in school (19 years ago) and in line for AP classes, almost everyone was white, even though I went to school in south FL and the school demographic was split almost into thirds between white, black, and hispanic. You can't really get through a lawsuit these days without asking for some sort of damages, 75k isn't a lot in the grand scheme of things, and who knows... maybe she would donate the money, or put it in a college fund for her kid. But if the lawsuit does nothing else, it at least gives the education system some visibility so that other minority students are offered spots in elite classes that might not be looked over otherwise.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  7. Charles

    Welcome to Amerikkka Wimberly. They are sore losers, and embarrassed because you beat "the master race" so they decided to just take the accolade from you. As an intelligent hard working Black person this will be one of many times that you will bruise the ego of white people in your lifetime. Even while sitting in their double wide, the least intelligent white person still fantasizes that they are above other races of people. Always remember that white people will tolerate you, but will never accept you. Just keep on achieving and moving forward. Do it for yourself and your family.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  8. Bored

    It's a combination of pride and fear. A lot (not all of course) of white people in the inside truly feel they are a superior race and they are very scared that they are being overrun. While the first part is not true (we're all humans, if you believe Darwin we all came from monkeys, if you believe the Bible, we all came from Adam and Eve) the second part is very much a reality. There will come a time when Caucasians will become a minority (and more people like the Norwegian massacre dude will come out as that reality comes closer) and we just better hope that all the crap they're pulling now will not bite their descendants in the ***. All this scared white people now, they will grow old and they will die. And their descendants who will become a minority unfortunately will be the ones who will suffer for their shenanigans.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. hippypoet

    this is nothing more then this - trying to appear as fair, but its really just reverse racism! they won't make the white kid valedvic because it is an almost enitre black school.... racism is everywhere, normally in the public eye its more familiar as reverse racism... the clear atemp at being fair from a stance of race, retarded!

    July 27, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  10. Dave

    Going after a monetary award makes it seem like shes just after a money grab. The truth is that living well is the best revenge she is obviously a bright girl so she should just go to college and make something out of her life. Not bog down the legal system with this nonsense.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • qnswmn

      Why are u people so conerned with the amount of money she is suing for. You all are just a bunch of jealous haters, always have been and always will be. Who are you to say what she should do, mind you own business and live you life and make something out of your life!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Erin

    $75,000? Gosh, that seems eerily similar to most 4 year college tuition....

    July 27, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • ShaneB

      Yeah, that'd be nice.

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

      She's valedictorian, she's probably got a scholarship moron. $75,000 is probably going to go mostly to legal fees and other expenses. It's not cheap to sue a school.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Koon Boon

      Just another case of gibs muh dat, they always want something for nothing.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  12. Blaqmajik

    I went to HS in Virginia and they did all the could to keep me and a few other exeptional blacks out of AP/TAG classes. I believe this girl, and she should fight for what is rightfully hers.

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

      Obviously you weren’t good enough to make it to AP/TAG classes! Get over it! Life goes on

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

      lol I knew white people at my school that said the same stuff, maybe its cuz u ain't smart enough, this isn't the 70's come on now!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • STLgirl

      killerbeeman, apparently you're the one that's not that bright. The problem is that she WAS good enough! And if so, why should she just get over it? Life does go on, but when you work exceptionally hard to meet your goals, you should be recognized for it, especially when others around you are. It's called fairness and equality.....

      July 27, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Gimmeabreak

      STLgirl, maybe you should read. She was denied NOTHING! NOTHING. When she fills out an app for job or college, she can write "VALEDICTORIAN". She wont need an *** or an explanation. So how was she denied?

      July 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Killerbeeman

    OMG here we go again!! CRY ME A RIVER!! It’s because I'm green it’s because I'm fat it’s because no one likes to accept personal responsibility in life. Move on get a life go to college and screw other students and teachers to make you look good! I see this crap daily and it makes me sick. You have Obama now! how much more do you want? It sounds awful but I myself am of color and I tell people its about how you carry yourself not what color you are!

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

      Wow, you know if it wasn't for people like this girl, you'd still have separate drinking fountains and no chance for a good job no matter how you carry yourself. If people didn't stand up when they've been wronged, you'd still be carrying yourself to the back of the bus.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      What personal responsibility should be accepted here? The young lady did everything asked of her and ended up with the highest GPA in her class. What more could she have done? Your argument doesn't make any sense.

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

      Aren't you late for a hanging you racist loser? YOU have Obama? What does that mean exactly Poindexter? I guess I can say You have David Duke and Glenn Beck.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Born in Alabama and Proud of it!

      Do you realize just how racist you sound/are? I'm sure your reply will be something along the lines of "I'm not racist... some of my best friends are black." "You have Obama now?" What's that got to do with anything? Inequity is inequity, period! Open your eyes and deal with the reality of the problems that still exist in this country. Better yet, look in the mirror and deal with the your own racist views... that would be a good start to fixing what's wrong with this country!

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

      "You have Obama now" is an incredibly racist statement.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Born in Alabama and Proud of it!

      Wow! I just reread your posting and realized that you are a person of color too. You REALLY need to think about the responses you've received in view of your stance.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • qnswmn

      @You have Obama now! how much more do you want?

      How about some equality? So – we have a biracial President that is treated with such high reagard, right! The POTUS is the President of all ppl, not just Black people and racism is over with now, huh?

      July 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • black guy

      Dude you could have worded that way better... but the reply's of what more could she have done? She could have ran committee's and organizations, or be involved in sports team. Those all factor into these decision. Sadly she wasn't able to do these things because she is a mother. We know nothing of this other student who is getting tons of hate for what being white. What if the other valedictorian was black, I bet the teenager inside of her would still be throwing a fit. THIS IS A 18 YEAR OLD! lets take what she says with a grain of salt people.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Millie Bea

    Yeah, that's pretty racist- great example for a school- I bet they don't teach evolution either.

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

      Doesn't strike me as racist. The co-valedictorian had a fraction of a percent GPA difference, and more advanced placement credits. Their accomplishments are equal.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • A. Goodwin

      Drowld – The co-validictorian didn't take advanced classes. That is why this is an issue. How can someone claim to be a validictorian when taking home economics than that who is taking advanced biology?

      July 27, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ernest

    Fair is fair. If she took less challenging courses than another student and the difference is .03 points, the a co-Valedictorian seems fair. She's STILL Valedictorian. Looking at this as a race-based issue is pretty stupid and self-serving. If this were a White student opposing this decision based on race against a Black co-Valedictorian, we'd all be sooooo not concerned.

    Bashing racist policies is all good & righteous, but just because a person is Black, Brown, Yellow, Red or White, does not automatically mean any problem is racially motivated. I still do not see how this young lady was injured in any way. If anything, she has shown herself to be petty, not a good thing.

    And the fact that she is a young, Black, unwed mother is so unique. Glad to see that was included in the story.

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

      @Ernest-I was with you all the way up until your final hypocritical sentence, "And the fact that she is a young, Black, unwed mother is so unique. Glad to see that was included in the story." Where you made it exactly that, a race issue. You unveiled what they tried to hide!

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