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. A merican-African

    not a literal elephant. sheesh. the figurative one. the one with the (R) on it. now google 'margie shoedinger'. there should still be something about her there. it's been years since i looked. it happened a long time ago. in Texas. no. he's not a real cowboy. get a clue

    July 26, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jessica

    I wonder if she would still be suing and pulling out the race card if her co-valedictorian were black..?? Curious. Then all she could say was 'I got screwed over', but since the co-valedictorian is white, she makes a big fuss about it?? Give me a break.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • KC

      Jessica, you're an idiot. The odds are good that she would have sued regardless and she's right--she should have been the only valedictorian and the other girl should have been the salutatorian. I guess there was no need to worry about any of that for you!

      July 26, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • NC Singlemom

      what ever dumb dumb

      July 26, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gemma

      Where do you idiots come up with these baseless assumptions? Why don't I make one. You clicked on this story just to to spew racially biased rhetoric.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • tmike

      well if the other gril was black then this wouldn't be news. your racist too, if the shoe was on your foot and you got passed by a black girl you would feel the same. so shut your face you witch!

      July 26, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dat Wabbit

    Hey yo she gro get a life u aint gonna be a valedictorian so get over it n all u other gros need to stop playin th black racist card evry time something doesn't go ur way its getting with the seriousness

    July 26, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jessica

    Also, just curious if she's going to college this fall?

    July 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mari

      Not sure how relevant your question is, but i'm sure I know where you're coming from.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • tmike

      Why! your an ass

      July 26, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. KC

    How"d you do in school? Bet she is smarter than you are!

    July 26, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. A merican-African

    @raven...good to see you again 🙂 I saw your post indicating that you had read the second part of my story dedicated to the memory of Margie Shoedinger, a youbg black gal who was rayped by a pre-groomed dillrod who became President of the USA, twice, and murdered by who cares who pulled the trigger. Just one little newspaper ran the story, so very few but the locals even know it happened. I wanted to do something so that someone besides me would remember her. So I made-up this story as kind of a lure. You nibbled at the hook...I'm setting it now. Why looky there! I caught a raven with a Royal Coachman I'll probably need a hula popper to catch banasy. he he

    July 26, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mari

    How far can she go on $75k? Are you sure you don't work for the school she attended?

    July 26, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. DJ

    Maybe she wasn't taken seriously because her name is Kymberly Wimberly. REALLY??? THANKS MOM!!!

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

    Not sure why my comment is signed "A merican african" it should be "j".

    July 26, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. KC

    You're name is perfect. You are a boob! She smarter than you I'd wager.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jason Frazier

    Typical... Blacks have the NAACP, they have the BET channel, they have black colleges, hell I even saw a commercial the other day for an online blacks only dating site. Now this... I am honestly not surprised. And you wonder why racism won't die? They won't let it.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • ASChicago

      Jason, let's wait until the facts come out. If what she's saying is true - that whites are encouraged to take the advanced classes by teachers and that blacks are not, then this is a serious issue.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don Heath

      Here is an excellent reason for blacks to go to black schools and whites to white schools... then there would be no problem.

      i am so sick of the whine of racism!

      July 26, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • KC

      What's the matter Jason, you white boys wanted to own everything by yourselves? You need to get your head out of your a$$. This is a simple matter of right and wrong. The kid got the best average plain and simple. She should have been the Valedictorian, and the other kid should have been the Salutatorian. Got it? Maybe you should see if you can at least finish High School now.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary Ann Holmes

      Mr Frazier...if the girl earned the top grade point average there is no reason she should have to share the honor of being Valedictorian especially when the other student had a lower GPA. Even an race blinded person like you can see that. Sad, sad, sad.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • yalesouth

      LastDinoasur, i am not sure she needs to invoke diversity, because it is likely a 1983 violation which would mean that it is a federal question issue.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason Frazier

      KC I don't care what color anybody is. I didn't grow up in the times of slavery, I didn't grow up in the 50's and 60's. I'm 33 years old and I don't owe anybody S&*#. The problem here is that an insane amount of african americans think that "the white man" owes them something. That's garbage. The administrator that made the decision said it would have been the same way had the girls been reversed. Look at the Rooney rule in the NFL. An NFL team can't hire a new coach unless they have interviewed a minority. It's things like that which I have a problem with. Nothing I said in my post isn't true. Can you prove that any of it isn't true or do you just have a problem reading it or hearing it?

      July 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • yalesouth

      ya and you do not sound racist at all. if one needed any proof that america continues to have race issues, you fit the bill.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gemma

      Other than the dating site scenario, the same can be said of women. They are a protected class, and if you cared to do any research, you would know that white women, by far, have benefited more from affirmative action then any other group.

      July 26, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • yalesouth

      jason, just because slavery occurred over 100 years ago, itslegacy persists. and quite frankkly, blks were subject to such phsychocal trauma and destruction of their famillies that it may take quite some time to repair. and i am not sure how you propose to assert that blks have nothing to complain about at this point. i mean really how do you know unless your are blk, the extent of the discrimination we experience? further, blks are arguably owed something, i mean whites built enomous fortunes both in the south and the north through slavery through the free labor of blks. the industrial revolution was fueled in large part by materials produced by blks in the south. during the antebellum period, what do you think drove our economy?

      July 26, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • UNKNOWN

      Jason, if you used only an ounce of your brain you would know that the NAACP was created in 1906 when Black achievement was against the law and actively and effectively eliminated by Caucasians... BET was also created when it became common practice for the main cable channels to systematically ignore Black talent. Case in point Michael Jackson's Thriller was the first "Black" Video shown on MTV... I can go on and on... JEt magazine, Ebony, etc... I guess you can say all of these "Black" organizations you obvious have a problem with is a product of a racist system... Do you get that???

      July 26, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason Frazier

      Actually no I'm not racist. Minority's just don't like to hear the truth.

      Here's the real problem with this story. It's not the fact that she arguing she was co-valedictorian when she should have been alone based on her GPA. If she has the highest GPA then she deserves it, especially being a teen mom. That takes a lot of work in itself not to mention making probably straight A's. She is bring the white black issue into it. Can't dispute that and that is why I have a problem. This girl is going around saying how blacks are discouraged from taking AP classes. Kimberly is making it a race issue probably because she knows that the courts may be willing to side with her lawsuit.

      July 26, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason Frazier

      So if I started up a White Entertainment Channel no black person would have a problem with that?? Again it's not about what my personal beliefs are. I couldn't care less what color anybody is. What happened in the past was horrible but we can't fix that and any person walking around like yalesouth who thinks they are owed something only cause problems.

      July 26, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vi

      Jason,

      Here are your white entertainment channels...CBS, ABC,NBC, Fox....no Blacks shows are on those channels.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sista

      Funny, even on the black dating sites there are tons of white people? So what does that mean? You don't want us around and you can't stay away. You're angry and you're scared. Years of oppression and just sheer nastiness and you are afraid that you might, someday get some of it back. It seems like most of the white comments here are trying to find justification for why she couldn't possibly have deserved the honor, not just that she shouldn't have to share it. A white person trying to tell me about racism should see that it is the equivalent of me kicking you in the shin and telling you it doesn't hurt. You don't receive the racism so how could you ever know? All that it means when you scream race card is that you think your years of privilege are in danger....

      July 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • ME

      I may be mistaken but I think that ole Kimberly may have become a McGehee student when schools consolidated. This may not be true but she may have actually come from a town outside of McGehee named Arkansas city. The man that created BET was actually from Arkansas city... I just thought that was a little ironic since BET came into the posts 🙂

      July 28, 2011 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  12. Gemma

    You are a moron...

    July 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. steve

    pulling the race card again
    the school district isn't that stupid to set themselves up for a lawsuit
    i can imagine thugs taking calculus!

    July 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • KC

      Really? What grade did you get?

      July 26, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • yalesouth

      you are so asinine, ya all blks are thugs. im blk, excelled in every math class that i took, including AP, and I went to yale. i am not saying her claim is meritorious, as i do not know yet, but you have no credibility because you people summarily dismiss all claims of racism, when, given our nation's history, you hardly have any basis for such skepticism.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gemma

      What are you a Rhodes Scholar?

      July 26, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Philip

    Someone made this point earlier, but what if her co-val were an African-American as well? If she sued, would it be making national mention? I doubt it. School District's get sued all the time. We are being intentionally divided by having this story shoved down our throats.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Don Heath

      Yeah.. what would her reaction have been if the other valedictorian was black.. I'm sure all would be fine then...

      July 26, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Well its nice to play what ifs but the point of the complaint that they gave co status to a white student rather than let a sole black student get the accolade so its a moot point.

      July 26, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. TheCaptain

    I agree with the repliers and this girl. First off she made it through high school with a kid which is typically unlikely. And second she obtained the highest GPA while taking an intense college level course load. This young woman has family support, personal drive and obviously a high intelligence quotient, the probability of her winding up on Welfare is minimal. However, the probability of you winding up a degenerant redneck in a broken down mobile home is very very probable.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
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