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. E.Fredericks

    It's just amazing that some of the comments are complety STUPID, why is it that every time someone black suggest unfair play, white people want to say it's about race, i understand some of you want to hide behide the computer and make all sorts of racial comments and that's your TRUE FEELINGS, and that's why this country will NEVER get past the race issue.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Debbie Meulenberg

      OMG are you nuts...whites do not use the race card. She is the black screaming racism. You can't read can ouy?

      July 27, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • JillyX

      Yep, CNN commenters prove the point that racism is alive and well. It used to shock me, but now I'm just sad. I can't remember the last time I saw a story here that involved a black person where commenters didn't pile on with the racism.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Kenedy

      you make us sound so innocent debbie your the idiot we were the reason that the race card was invented because one day we decided to enslave a bunch of people because we thought they were like animals remember that, oh and yeah they should get over it too bad , but old generations just keep fueling it on still like yourself, if we killed all the racist today and started anew that will solve the problem otherwise progeression may happen but things will never change.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • RTC

      Perhaps a quick read of the article might help you sound a little more intelligent....she said it was due to race...or at least implied it. If you are gonna participate in the discussion, at least take a moment to understand the discussion first. This is why we can't have nice things!

      July 28, 2011 at 6:00 am | Report abuse |
  2. Nadia

    It saddens me to read the hateful comments here. Racism is a major issue in our society but some caucasians don't see it because of "white privledge." As a Muslim, I experience racism and discrimination and as an African-American, this student is experiencing racism. She might be trying to cause positive change in her school before she leaves and I'm happy that she's brave enough to do so. Most teens would just accept what decision the school makes. Furthermore, the only relevance of her being a teen mom, is that she had to work harder than most students. Her being a teen mom may not fit into our society's concept of right and wrong, but how many of you are perfect, moral, people?

    July 27, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • JillyX

      I agree completely. Suing for money damages doesn't mean she's greedy – it's how things are done to get the attention of the powers that be and get them to be more careful, less racist or back up their case better next time... whichever applies.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • smartfool

      Does it really matter? Is valedictorian really that big of a deal? Once you go to college no one gives a damn about how good you did in high school. If she thinks its a big deal let her sue, but to sue for money is just trying to make a buck off of the tax payers and sucks more resources away from her school.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Guest

    Her name is Kimberly Wimberly so it is difficult to take her seriously. Her lawsuit is proof that despite being book smart, common sense doesn't come from textbooks. The skin color excuse has become tiresome in this nation. The school didn't take away her valedictorian status, they decided to honor another student with excellent grades as well. But that's not good enough for Kimberly Wimberly and her mother with a different last name. No, Kimberly Wimberly wants it ALL to herself and if she doesn't get it ALL she is going to sue. Most school districts today cannot afford frivolous lawsuits brought about by immature people who are so offended at the realization that they are not as special as they thought. Based on her actions and statements, Kimberly Wimberly won't be very succesful in life, and it will have nothing to do with the color of her skin.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Kenedy

      As a white man I see what you are saying the race card blah blah but think about this. The recent Casey anthony case do you think that there would have been people crying writting alll sorts of ridiculous remarks and following the case so closely if the mother and little girl that died were black? Il answer for you no noone would give a damn just another dead black girl. you see how people are treated differently but I know its hard to see as a white person because you are always the bad guy in the situation and you get fed up of it, but take a walk in someone elses shoes I have and I understand. BTW this is coming from a white male republican soo..

      July 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Vi

    12-21-12

    First of all, let me say that I'm no racist! I have several acquaintances of the black race. But this one will end up on welfare soon!

    12-21-12

    I have read most of your pathetic comments...you are a bigot my friend....a bigot!

    July 27, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Kenedy

      lol plenty of aquantances not even friends lol im white and thats funny.....me too ive spoken to one of them scary dark people before so im no racist either lol the things our race says and does are just funny

      July 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. StupidPeopleAreBreeding

    So...
    Most importantly –
    She's still Valedictorian, she's just 1 of 2. Is she so empowered to deny recognizing another of their achievements? Who exactly does she think she is questioning another students records?
    And still...
    It says she's a mother, not that she's a good/bad or even available mother. Bet'cha Grandma or others pick up the slack. A lot of students work after school to help families, there isn't much difference.

    And you racist people on both sides – Did MLK ask for money when he fought the good fight for equality? Both sided should be ashamed. Unite to end racism – but awarding money isn't the answer. That money comes from limited pockets that pay for schools. What a wonderful example of a Valedictorian… taking money from the next generation of classes.

    Fail.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. solomon

    Did she loose anything by have to share the recognition?

    July 27, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • BranBran

      It was HERS ALONE to begin with. No one should have tried to take that special achievement from her!

      July 27, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. VT_Citizen

    Racism? In Arkansas? No way man. Can't be.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jende Rangu

    Whites sorry not whites meant pink people are racists all over the world. This woman is going through what every black person would go through whenever there is anyone of a pink race. I hate you pink people you think you are smart right

    July 27, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Stephanie

    This is a follow-up response to my comment on page 28. My brother had a 4.0 GPA, but so did five other people in his class of about 350. That was the highest GPA achievable, although he received almost A pluses throughout school. Whether you got all A's or A pluses, you still ended up with a 4.0 GPA. He shared the honor of being Valedictorian with others and was proud to do so. In the end, he ended up with a degree from Brown University and became very successful. No complaining, just dedication.

    July 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. BranBran

    Aside from all the other racial incidents this young woman is bringing up, the question still remains: IF SHE HAD THE HIGHEST GPA OF HER GRADUATING CLASS, WHY WASN'T SHE NAMED THE SOLE VALEDICTORIAN?

    In my mind, there was no reason for the other student to be named a co-valedictorian when her credentials didn't measure up. This is a cut and dry situation. The school district is clearly wrong, regardless of how some of you feel about the "he said, she said" portions of the case, or how you may feel about this young woman citing racism as the reasoning behind this injustice.

    While it's not something we like to dwell on, racism is still very much ALIVE AND WELL in the USA. Open your eyes and stop feeling ashamed every time a black person mentions race! If you aren't racist, then it shouldn't bother you.

    July 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Carter

    I know I've been out of school almost 20 years, but I do remember the highest GPA being the valedictorian and the second highest being the salutatorian. So my question is unless the other child has the exact same GPA, why would she be named the co-val? Also, to all of you with the derogatory comments, would you say the same thing if it were your child? People have sued for much more over much less. Obviously, this young lady feels she has had something she worked very hard for taken away from her. It is no different from an Olympic runner protesting over sharing a gold medal with the person who finished a millisecond behind him, I don't think any of us would find that outrageous, instead we'd all be running the the video to confirm who actually came in first and deserves the gold medal...

    July 27, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mariah

    I'm not usually the one to pull the "race card" AT ALL. But if the roles were switched, there would be NO co-valedictorian. This doesn't surprise me though.

    July 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Kenedy

      Well dan as a white man for someone to say I dont normally call people out on the race card and then to go around making jokes about african americans being on welfare really makes your statement rather moot dont you think. Why does it always have to come down to minorities being poor lol I have plenty of very wealthy african american, asian, hispanic and all sorts of races in my neightboorhood and I can guarntee I make more than you as my neighboorhood is top 1 percent of the nations so yeah I win

      July 27, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      well Jack(ass) you're refering to the top 5% of people in a given minority: black, hispanic, etc. (i'd say asians are the exception to this generalization)

      July 27, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Jack Kenedy, there are a lot of black and Hispanic people in my neighborhood as well, they are called landscapers. I'm just calling an idiot out for prefacing doing something by saying they don't normally do it. Congratulations on being in the richest 1% of the nations? What neighborhood in Qatar do you live in? You do mean Qatar right? The richest nation. I'm surprised you deal with a lot of blacks and Asians over there, I would think your main problems would be terrorists.

      July 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • hannahk

      Looks like this Dan character is fine with burning in hell. Landscapers??? Really?? You were obviously raised under a rock... ignorance= racism

      July 27, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Don't worry if there's a hell below, we're all going to go.

      July 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Thizz

    She will still get a better scholarship than the white valedictorian, so what the hell is she complaining about...

    July 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cynthia

      You're kidding, right?

      July 27, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      not a doubt in my mind...i went to University of Cincinnati and they offered inner-city Cincinnati graduates scholarships, while I received none, and i am an Ohio resident so it's not that...

      July 27, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BerkeleyPortland

    I'm so disappointed that this actually happens still. This young woman deserves to hold the valedictorian status alone. The school's principal, Darrell Thompson, should be fired.

    July 27, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • skarrlette

      Here! Here!-I mean what does this guy think we are morons. I have never heard of two valedictorian in my life what a crock of S. The principal was afraid of a backlash from the white students wimp!

      July 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joe Blow

    From the school's handbook: http://www­.edline.ne­t/files/_I­KIuU_/3989­88b9b7b02e­ef3745a490­13852ec4/M­HS_2010_Ha­ndbook.pdf

    CLASS RANK
    The determinat­ion of class rank will be:
    $ Students will be ranked by grade point averages.
    $ Grades from all four years of an accredited high school will be used; including Algebra I
    taken in the 8th grade.
    $ The final senior ranking will be figured at the end of the school year.
    $ 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 courses will not be penalized.

    It is undisputed that Ms. Wimberly has the highest GPA. It is also undisputed that the other (white) valedictor­ian had more credits, i.e. took more courses. With regards to the last item listed above in determinin­g class rank, if both students took the same or equivalent course work and received the same grade of "A", the student with the greater number of courses (the white valedictor­ian) should not be penalized. If that is the case the school administra­tors are following the rules set forth in the handbook in making the two students co-valedic­torians.

    July 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christian

      That is why my school used a weighed grade system which this school should be using. Regents/Regular courses have a lower weight than AP or Honors. So if a student in a regular class got a 90% average and a student in AP got a 90% average The report card would say 90% for the regular student and about 97% for the AP student since the class is harder.

      July 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
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