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. Roxz80

    Reading conservative comments on race-related stories makes me very sad. )=.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • traps city

      Reading passive aggressive comments on here makes me very sad : ( so when a comment asks the reader to appeal to reason, it is conservative? I can live w that.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gimmeabreak

    So how was she damaged? She isnt half valedictorian. She is as much valedictorian as the other girl. So how was she discriminated against? She was denied ALL the spotlight? We are now calling that racism too? Oh boy!
    If 46% are black, why do you have to have 46% in AP? What were the test scores and GPA's of those black kids? Were stupid white kids taking AP classes? I doubt it. If blacks wonder why some white people just shake their heads at you it is because we are sick of the silliness. There is racism in America, no doubt. This aint it.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. mark

    BOO HOO im black and didnt get my way I should sue!

    What they are not telling anyone is she has a record and the babys father is in jail over gang charges....

    July 27, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Jack Kenedy

      IM white and that sounds pretty racist buddy why hate on your fellow man

      July 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • StephenG

      I'm white and your comment is messed up. Turkeys like you cause issues like this raised in the article.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. David

    I hope the judge throws this out...
    I have grown tired of blacks using the race card to get something in return.
    She should go buy some cheese to go along with her whine.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  5. the_dude

    Oh wow blacks playing the race card....how original. I like how the black student cries about all the things she didnt get but doesnt mention a word to all the hard working taxpayers that pay taxes so she can be a baby momma and get section 8 housing and welfare for free.

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

      you are really ignorant! She wasnt living off welfare nor section8.... she succeeded in high school... probably more than you can say for yourself. she beat the odds... teenage mother stayed in school, did very well, and is going to college. People like you make the world a terrible and much harder place. step back and re-evaulate yourself... what makes you so full of HATE and ANGER?! does your life suck? it must (being that you are small minded, uneducated, and dumber than a box of rocks)

      July 27, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Punkass

    This girl sounds like a spoiled brat to me. Seems that she grew up with her mom telling her she deserved all the best things in life. I find it funny that when her mom found out and was telling this girl the good news she over heard someone in the copy room say that was going to be a problem lol. What is this, a soap opera? How scripted lol. Hopefully this girl learns a valuable life lession. You dont always get what you want, life isnt fair and you have to make the best of what comes your way. I hope the lawsuit is thrown out.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  7. Doug

    LOL, you think this is bad and wrong try attending any school in a blue area and challenge the liberal Democrat indoctrination. At least she still got fair grades, and wasn't punished for not marching lock step. At least she didn't fear for her life not only from students but by administrators as well.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Give me a break

    I went to a couple graduations this year. Everyone is getting recognition for "something'. I guess next people are going to sue because they didn't get a ribbon, sash, plaque, or something to say "you're special". I mean, isn't it discrimination against idiots if they recognize 80% of the students but not the other 20% for something? This is stupid.
    Did they take valedictorian away from her? Did it lessen her acheivement? What if they prove the other student was as deserving? Is she going to proudly wear the label "racist" for trying to deny the honor to a white student?

    July 27, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josoc

      You hit the nail right in the head. Inspite all the bravado she thinks she's displaying, all she's showing is a very huge sense of insecurity, if not conceit.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • StephenG

      The point is that she had the highest marks after full weighting of the GPA based on district policy. She DESERVED the full honor and distinction of being the sole valedictorian. Think Olympics.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. larry

    Congrats to both students for doing so well. Both will most likely do well in college and beyond. However, if one got to the finish line faster & higher than the other, proper recognition and respect should be acknowledged. By the way "Claire" the correct amount was 75K not 750K. Reading comprehension is so important. And "Teamroper" you are an obvious idiot by your childish comments. I'm sure you did not graduate at the top of your GED class.

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

      Agree with you Larry. District needs to follow its own policies for grading and weighting for AP/Honors classes.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Josoc

    Inspite all the bravado she thinks she's displaying, all she's showing is a very huge sense of insecurity.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rb3331

    75K? Really? Ok, give her the sole possession, but this is a money scheme. Shame on here for belittling true racial issues.

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

    In the article she was quoted a number of times as having first hand knowledge of things like encouraging whites to take AP classes, or whites almost having to opt out of AP classes. Somehow I doubt that she witnessed that level of racism and kept her mouth shut this long. Her mom overheard something in a copy room? That's where all racists hold meetings to plot their course of action. Then the co-val took an additional half credit. So a student who completed more schooling while maintaining a less than .02 difference in GPA couldn't have been as deserving? What where the courses and how did they compare? Can she say the minorities simply didn't sign up for courses? Not once did it say they signed up, but were denied entry into AP classes. She got into them so it wasn't racially driven. This story is so full of holes it's not worth reading, but you can bet she's going to go through life using this crutch.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • JillyX

      " Not once did it say they signed up, but were denied entry into AP classes. She got into them so it wasn't racially driven."

      It doesn't have to be totally blatant to be racially driven. It would have been illegal to bar students from the classes based on race, so it's quite believable to me that subtler ways were used to discourage minorities from taking the AP classes.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Agree!

      I completely agree with you! Eventually this "excuse" has to stop being used. If anything ... being a white student is becoming more of a condemnation. They don't have the luxury of getting scholarships because they are white, that would be considered racists... There are hundreds of black scholarships. What happened to EQUALITY?!

      July 27, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Capt. Big Daddy

    Sew them for bigotry, the answer is in the courts!

    July 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • solomon

      Hey big Daddy, just what do you suggest she SEWS? Maybe a FAIL mark on your spelling test.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. the_dude

    Hey blacks guess what? Unfair things happen to people of all races, all colors.....even white people.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • lahunjah

      hey whites guess what? injustice is injustice. who are YOU to tell black people how to handle their injustices?

      July 27, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maria

      Dude you are correct, unfair things do happen to people of all races to include white people. It would be inaccurate and unfair to assert that only black people get treated poorly. This is just not the case an can be proven. However, there tends to be a higher percentage of unfair occurences among African Americans. This could be due to the history of racism that does exist in our country. Great strides have been made to combat this problem, which is evident in the election of Barrack Obama as the first African American president. It also speaks to the strides that have been made to combat racism and discriminatory practices, since black people were not the only group that voted President Obama into office. In order to continue to evolve as a Nation we must continue to speak out against unfair practices that affect all groups of people. United we stand but divided we fall.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. From Arkansas

    Another reason confidentiality and common sense should prevail. If the school counselor had kept quite and both students were named at the same time the mother would have never had prior knowledge and it never would have appeared that something was being taken away from her daughter. When I graduated we had three valedictorians! All three had taken the exact AP course load and had the same GPA. The result we had three speeches.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • littleghouls

      ... but this 'co-valedictorian' DOESN'T have the same GPA, and DIDN'T take the same course load. did you bother to read the article at all?

      July 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jose

      Sheesh, I was co-valedictorian and I took AP calc, while the girl who made the speech took AP english literature. I didn't care!

      July 27, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
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