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. Mixedchic94

    this situation is horrible. Valedictorian= highest gpa.....period there are NO loopholes and , what kind of bs are they running down there. I thought Even in the confederate states of America that Valedictorian= highest gpa....now they are rewriting definitions ...call up merriam webster we have a typo 🙂 lol

    July 28, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Bigman

      AGREE ! When it comes down to the school rulebook, its states have highest GPA and must have attended the school for at least 2 years. End of story, Highest GPA = Sole Winner of Valedictorian Honor. If it's a moral issue, or a she was a bad role model being a young mother, or she didn't do much for the community, or just plain the student wasn't a nice person; ITS NOT IN THE RULE BOOK SO WRITE YOUR CONGRESSMAN !

      July 28, 2011 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  2. Mixedchic94

    . Valedictorian= highest gpa.....period there are NO loopholes and , what kind of bs are they running down there. I thought Even in the confederate states of America that Valedictorian= highest gpa....now they are rewriting definitions ...call up merriam webster we have a typo 🙂 lol

    July 28, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  3. ulap

    .....stupid racisttttttttttttttttttttttt....feeling superior......who the hell are you....you still step on this bloody land...

    July 28, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  4. Anthony Quatroni

    She has a child already and she's not even out of school. Typical. . .

    July 28, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Bigman

      HAVE YOU SEEN THE CAST OF MTV'S TEEN MOMS ? ALL WHITE GIRLS GIVING IT UP ! LOL TYPICAL

      July 28, 2011 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Tagtag

      Finishing school and being valedictorian while still dealing with being a single mother... not typical at all.

      July 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leo

      And while you're snubbing her because she had a child, she's going to achieve great things because of her intelligence and drive. And I'm sure she could outsmart you.

      July 28, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • chaz

      Bigman,

      Have looked at the stats on teen pregnancy? Black teen pregnancy rate is way higher. Do you think a program that had proportional rep would get on the air? Well obviously, it wouldn't. Having set you straight on that score, this story is indeed heinous. If the things stated are true, someone should be horsewhipped. I've known a few teen moms and most are not doing anywhere near as well as this student.

      July 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bigman

    PEOPLE ! IT'S NOT A MORAL ISSUE, OR A RACE ISSUE, OR A MONEY ISSUE, IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO A NUMBERS ISSUE THAT'S IT. HIGHEST GPA = KIMBERLY (CHECK) HAS SHE ATTENDED THE SCHOOL FOR AT LEAST 2 YEARS (CHECK) DONE SHE GET'S VALEDICTORIAN HONOR JUST FOR HERSELF. The unnamed white student took more classes ? (Not in the Handbook) Was a very active member of the community ? (Not in the Handbook) Was a very good role model ? (Not in the Handbook) Was not a young mother ? (Not in the Handbook) THIS IS JUST SOMETHING THE SCHOOL FUDGED UP, AND SHOULD SAY SORRY TO KIMBERLY, IT WAS A NICE GESTURE TO MAKE IT A CO-VALEDICTORIAN BUT THEY SHOULD'VE CONSULTED WITH KIMBERLY ABOUT HOW MINIMALLY CLOSE THE "UNNAMED WHITE STUDENT" WAS TO KIMBERLY'S #1 SPOT.

    July 28, 2011 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
    • johnnyonthespot

      First of all, writing in all caps is very annoying and you should stop. This girl is taking this too far. I could see complaining about it but suing the school district? Valedictorian becomes important only for recieving college scholarships. After a year nobody cares what your class rank in high school was. She should be happy that her co-valedictorian can now recieve the same high dollar scholarships to attend college at a prestigious school as she will. I graduated #4 and was very excited at the time. After a year of college...who remembers? It doesn't make a difference. I seriously doubt that in a community tha is 43% black, that there is discrimination in who is pushed to take AP courses. I don't know why I waste time posting opinions on stories here, because it really isnt that important. I guess I have nothing better to do at my job because all sites like espn and anything else remotely interesting is blocked. Happy trails.

      July 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • queenbee

      Johnnyonthespot STFU–if this had been a white valedictorian with a black student given co status with lower grades–most of you would be waving around reverse racism and claiming she only got the status through affirmative action. This was BS and most of us know it–she should not have to share the spot and if I was her, when it came time to give my speech, I would have mentioned the situation and let THAT be a part of the local news story. Reverse affirmative action for the not so bright white kid? Kudos to this young woman for not only getting the highest grades and beating out all other students–but also doing it while being a single mother–which would have made it even harder to achieve and SHAME on this school for devaluing her hard work and for making her share her spot–if she had not had the highest grades, would she have been the co-valedictorian? Odds are NO.

      July 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • JustMe

      No big deal? Not important? Why? Cause it didn't happen to your kid? If you don't fight something it will just continue to happen, and what happend is inexcusable.

      July 28, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bigman

    Alittle of subject but how about mandatory drug testings for anyone claim unemployment checks and Welfare checks, or any unearned money from the government for that matter ????

    July 28, 2011 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jage

    I think everyone is overlooking the worst part of this. Her name is KIMBERLY WIMBERLY. What it the world were her parents thinking?

    July 28, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • aimee

      best observation ever.

      July 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. yvgeny

    Being valedictorian is a bad thing. Fighting over it is worse. Suing over it is childish. Valedictorian should be removed from schools.

    July 28, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Leo

      So... it's a bad thing to earn the highest academic spot in a graduating class? It's a bad thing to be smarter and more hard-working than your peers?

      You aren't that bright, are you?

      July 28, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. madison

    Can some one please explain to me what is the race card ? This seems to be a term that whites like to use to say that blacks are wrong for standing up against Bigotry " stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own. the actions, beliefs, prejudices, etc" which is the case not racistism "hatred or intolerance of another race or other races" the first leading into the second for most bigots become racist based on that fact , but my point being is there is no race card being played and if there is study your history how many times in the past have blacks that have fought for this country been no given medals or acknowledged as eric holder said Americans are cowards when it comes to race talk and it is because of the bigots that refuse to see the history of the doings of America to blacks that exsist to this day tell a child work hard if you make a mistake learn from it then you decide to give a co-person ? The right thing to do is for the other girl to decline and say she wont be a part of it if it where the other way around whites would be yelling affirmative action right

    July 28, 2011 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • queenbee

      This was reverse Affirmative Action–in this case the white inferior grade student had to be attached to the grades of the black student so all the white people would not have to worry or wonder about how–a black girl with a kid was STILL smarter than all the other students and STILL got better grades than all those WHITE kids. Just another way to protect and perpetuate the myth of white intellectual superiority. LOL Sue Kimberly and take it all the way to the SCOTUS–Not to get money but to put the story out there for the entire WORLD to see and THINK about!

      July 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rev

      Queenbee, If you want to call it "reverse Affirmative Action" then does that mean only one race can say "Affirmative Action works?" Or do you think only white people should be excluded from the benefits of Affirmative Action? Queenbee you come accross as a very sad, angry and racist type of person.

      July 28, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • queenbee

      Rev–blacks don't have a problem being labeled racist–after all, we have about 500 years of stuff to do before we approach what whites have done to other races, and given our history–what whites did just because–at least there would be a causal effect to what we did back IF we did anything back–save the guilt trip for your own race.

      July 28, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • lotsahelp

      The race card means saying that others behavior is solely based on the skin color of someone. And many of us are tired of being told everything bad happens to black people is because of racism. when really it is just life!

      July 28, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. madison

    Can some one please explain to me what is the race card ? This seems to be a term that whites like to use to say that blacks are wrong for standing up against Bigotry " stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own. the actions, beliefs, prejudices, etc" which is the case not racistism "hatred or intolerance of another race or other races" the first leading into the second for most bigots become racist based on that fact , but my point being is there is no race card being played and if there is study your history how many times in the past have blacks that have fought for this country been no given medals or acknowledged as eric holder said Americans are cowards when it comes to race talk and it is because of the bigots that refuse to see the history of the doings of America to blacks that exsist to this day tell a child work hard if you make a mistake learn from it then you decide to give a co-person ? The right thing to do is for the other girl to decline and say she wont be a part of it if it where the other way around whites would be yelling affirmative action right correct me if i am wrong we need to stop worry about black white and focus on rich poor

    July 28, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. khandie

    This is my hometown. I was born and raised there and for yall ppl . it shouldnt matter if she had a baby in high school .. if u dont kno the whole story shut your mouth.. she is a very bright and wonderful girl. Mcgehee has always been based on who u r or wat ur last name is.. its is so far racist its nt even funny.. if u date a black person and u r white u r white trash r a n-lover.. ppl need to grow up and see the big picture here. she should have gotten it and didnt bcuz of the color of her skin.. both girls r very bright and wonderful girls.. But this is nt the first time its happen there and its nt going to b the last either...

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

      If your writing skills are any indication of the quality of the school then God help anyone "graduating". Oh, and the "shut your mouth" classic human trash line that crosses all races. Juveniles by age or just in mind like you never fail to make me laugh. Too bad I'll probably be paying for you throughout your life unlike Kymberly.

      And for the record, I do think the school is being racist.

      July 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. musings

    Of course this "big mess" is a racist one of the school's own making. She DID the AP courses she was discouraged from taking. I think her exposing the way blacks are manipulated over the APs proves she is concerned for others and not just ambitious for her personal self. That said – how about a full scholarship to Stanford or Harvard. Then she could just put the misery of that narrow minded southern hellhole behind. Ah, Stanford. That'd be my choice.

    July 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Terek

    The article quotes the McGehee handbook which 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." My problem here with the Superintendent's decision is that Ms. Wimberly was NOT taking a regular coursework, but rather, she was taking the advanced placement courses! So, unless there is an advanced level beyond "advanced placement" I do not see how the other student was penalized. We can not say that the other student took more difficult classes than Ms. Wimberly if they are both taking the advanced placement courses! What I mostly question though is the backroom conversations that were taking place! What exactly is the "big mess" they were referring to? Even if you believe they were not talking about race, were they discussing her family dynamic, her having a child? If so, that is improper! We have laws that protect women against that form of discrimination in the workplace and I would think it is no different in our schools.

    July 28, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • queenbee

      The big mess was the revelation to the nation that the notion that whites are intellectually superior are being exposed as a myth–because there is no way to explain how a woman with a child to raise and being a "black person" still managed to get better grades than all of the white people at that school –unless she was just fortunate enough to graduate with a genetically inferior batch.

      July 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. My Name is... Not Mike

    Suing is beyond overreacting! She can still brag about having the highest grades in her class. Nobody is gonna give a $#!% that she was a co-valedictorian. Does she, or anybody else, really think taking out the "co" is gonna make her life better?? Give me a break! Get over it!

    July 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • JustMe

      It is about more than that, it's about changing things for future students and standing up to bigotry. I think she is brave, no doubt she was aware of all the hateful and cruel(not neccessarily talking about your post) things that would slung her way.

      July 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rev

    The other point I think which is being missed here by Wimberly, her mother and all the other people who just want to argue about is, be proud of both young lady's for working their tails off to reach the level of valedictorian. In one year from now or twenty years from now does it really matter? Why make their lasting memory of this be how the lawsuite comes out?

    July 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
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