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."

Post by:
Filed under: Arkansas • Civil Rights • Courts • Education • Justice • Race • U.S.
soundoff (2,063 Responses)
  1. Elmo Riffcan

    I would also like to add that I am disabled and cannot work anymore, but I will start saving and turning in my loose change and it can make a difference if the other 250 million other people in our country do the same.You know you cannot build a home without a good foundation,let the poor give what they can,the middle class give what they may and the wealthest people and corperate business make the largest contributations.It's time we as the citizens of America be listened to,we hear your pain America and we will give until we cannot give anymore. Long live the United States of America and bless its citizens who have come to her aid.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • tcp

      So you want 535 people to decide what to do with EVERYONE's money?

      July 27, 2011 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. A merican-African

    The same thing happened to me only it was at a diamomd mining district, not a school district. As a white American-African, they just laughed at me. One mining official was quoted as saying that white people just have no business working in an African diamond mine. I appealed my case even to the highest court, a grass hut sitting on a grassy knoll overlooking a popular elephant sniping ground. The tribal chief/mine manager/judge/jury reviewed my case and just started laughing his ass off.So i appealed his decision. Then everyone in the courtroom started laughing and uncontrolably. The laughter broke-out the the court-hut and began spreading through the community. As one person would tell the next about the poor white boy who "coulbn't find a job", like a shock wave the laughter spread-out...scaring two African elephant's who then trampled a poacher. He's ok but he sued me for a new .450 mag elephant gun and won.(he he) Race only became an issue when I raced my ass out of town. "looky dat wat boay a runnin'"

    July 26, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. KeninTexas

    It said "Kymberly Wimberly, 18, earned the highest grade point average in McGehee Secondary School's 2011 graduating class.",,,, It sounds like it's pretty cut and dry to me. She had the highest average, so she deserved the honor. Pretty simple.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. I'm right

    Future employers take note: don't hire this girl, she is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      One of them colored organizations will probably hire her, the NACCP maybe.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Craig

      Yeah, shut and know your place right? WRONG

      July 27, 2011 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. Romany

    Doesn't anyone see the irony of this girl's statements?
    I ask again, and I would like the question put to this girl...
    Would she be suing if she were the only valedictorian?
    I doubt it.
    Would she be suing if the co-valedictorian were black?
    I doubt it.
    *she* made this about race.
    Only her.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. raven

    Kymberly Wimberly ?? Jeez Louise!!

    July 26, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • scbrown

      Oh you know how it is....They want to play both sides of the fence.......Something like Bristlo Palin being the
      Teen Abstinence Ambassador for the Candie’s Foundation

      July 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • tcp

      Holy Moly!

      July 27, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  7. Romany

    Kevin,TX:
    I would be highly p!ssed of if someone had the highest grade point average from home-ec and choir, and I had the second highest GPA with the hardest courses under the sun, and she got valedictorian.
    That's why she has a co-valedictorian.
    Because, when push comes to shove, the courses taken SHOULD matter, not race.

    This girl didn't get snubbed, she is still honored as valedictorian.

    This sh!t happened when I was in HS, and it's as prevalent today as it was then.
    GPA *in addition to* courses taken should be the standard.
    Fortunately, the HS changed it so the kids taking the easy classes don't get awarded for getting something they didn't earn.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy

    Raven!
    Sista!

    July 26, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. raven

    Hey my sista! Hows e.l.t. ?

    July 26, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. banasy

    My daughter's graduating class had two valedictorians and two saludictorians this year, and nobody batted an eye.
    Good lord, so much ado over something very silly....

    July 26, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. banasy

    Praven:
    E.l.t. Is ducky. How about you?

    July 26, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. banasy

    That should be:
    @raven:
    E.l.t. is ducky.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. A merican-African

    ...I ran 'till I couldn't 'run no moe' as they say. And I can run pretty fast and pretty far. I even outran some locals who were running away from yet another couple of angry elephants. he he...now I know what that black stuff in-between elephant toes is. Slow natives. If it was white, you'd hardly see it anyway...even if you reversed it. (shrug) I ended-up on oilfare, a government program where I alway's got a check on the 3rd., but I'm always on call to go to work in order to qualify. Plus they make me work 10 hours per week digging that black stuff out of the toe's of Elephant's sold to American zoos. I've found three diamonds already! Only a few of us white boys enrolled in the program...cuzz there was only a few of us white boys 'round here. Hereinreality.com

    July 26, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. raven

    Im glad to hear it! Same here . Missed you all, hard to comment today cuz threads are saturated,hope to see you more often!

    July 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jeffy Weffy ( R - OHIO )

    Kymberly Wimberly – "Go get 'em." If you were my child, you'd be worth 10 times what your suing them for. And I'd make 'em put you "completly" through Harvard or Yale University

    July 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • tcp

      You DO realize that 'em is YOU, right?

      July 27, 2011 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60