Black student barred from being valedictorian, says lawsuit

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Kymberly Wimberly, an 18-year-old student from just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, is suing McGehee Secondary School for allegedly not allowing her to become valedictorian because of her race. Wimberly, whose high school career is replete with honors and advanced placement classes, received only one B during her four years at McGehee and was told by a school counselor that she had the highest GPA in her class.

According to the lawsuit, Wimberly says she was pushed aside and told she would be co-valedictorian with another white student who had a lower G.P.A. “School administrators and personnel treated two other white students as heir[s] apparent to the valedictorian and salutatorian spots,” she says in the suit, according to the Courthouse News Service.

Wimberly’s mother works for McGehee as the school’s media specialist. In the federal discrimination complaint she says that on the same day it was announced that her daughter would only be co-valedictorian, she overheard “in the copy room…other school personnel express[ing] concern that Wimberly’s status as valedictorian might cause a ‘big mess.’”

When Bratton, Wimberly’s mother, tried to object to the school board, Superintendent Thomas Gathen, who is a defendant in the case, did not let her speak, alleging that Bratton had filled out the wrong form — filing ‘public comments’ instead of ‘public participation.’ He then informed her that his decision could only be challenged at the June 28th school board meeting, much later than the May 13th graduation date.

Gawker reports that this is not the first time McGehee has faced this kind of charge. In 1983 an African-American homecoming candidate challenged the result of the subsequent election, a case that the New York Times reports ended in a re-match between the two candidates.

Wimberly argues that this incident is part of a steady pattern of discrimination against African-American students at McGehee, saying that the school dissuades students from taking upper level classes “by telling them, among other things, that the work [is] too hard.” The school is 46 percent African-American with a Caucasian majority.

The federal court claim reads: “defendants did not support African-American students, and did not want to see Wimberly, an African-American young mother as valedictorian.”

Wimberly is looking for damages for the school’s alleged unconstitutional action, as well as the official title as the one and only valedictorian of McGehee’s 2011 graduating class.