A recent McGehee High School graduate has filed a federal lawsuit against the McGehee School District asking that school records be changed to show her as the sole valedictorian.
Kymberly L. Wimberly, who is black, had the highest grade point average in her class but had to share the title with a white student who had a lower grade point average, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Pine Bluff on July 21.
Depite missing three weeks of school to have a baby her junior year, Wimberly managed to make only one “B” in high school, said Brigette Frazier, an attorney with the John Walker law firm in Little Rock.
“Because her sole ‘B’ lowered her class standing, Wimberly worked extra hard her senior year, taking as many Honors and Advanced Placement classes as she could in order to achieve the title as valedictorian,” the lawsuit reads. “She did this even though school administrators and personnel treated two other white students as heir apparent to the valedictorian and salutatorian spots.”
Shortly after being told by the school counselor that her daughter had the highest GPA, Wimberly’s mother, Molly Bratton, the school’s certified media specialist, went to the copy room where other school personnel expressed concern that Wimberly’s status as valedictorian might cause a “big mess,” according to the lawsuit.
The same day, McGehee Superintendent Thomas Gathen told Bratton not to worry, her daughter was “the valedictorian and the GPA would tell the story,” according to the lawsuit.
The following day, the high school principal, Darrell Thompson, told Bratton that he decided to name a white student as co-valedictorian and that he made that decision after reading something in the school policy handbook, according to the lawsuit.
Bratton immediately called Gathen who explained that Thompson had approached him about the other student and he affirmed Thompson’s decision to have the student with the lower GPA also listed as valedictorian, according to the lawsuit.
Bratton reportedly tried to appeal Thompson’s decision to the school board but was not allowed to do so.
“She filled out a form for public comments so she could speak before the school board at their May meeting,” the lawsuit reads. “However, Gathen did not allow her to speak. He told Bratton that she filled out the wrong form. Instead of ‘public comments’, Bratton should have asked for ‘public participation’. Because the form was incorrect, Gathen said Bratton had to wait until the June 27 school board meeting to appeal the decision. Wimberly’s graduation was May 13.”
Frazier told Seark Today that Gathen told Walker before graduation that he would recognize Wimberly at commencement as the sole valedictorian but he didn’t.
The lawsuit claims the school’s action was part of a pattern of discrimination against black students.
Wimberly, who plans to major in Biology at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff this fall, is suing for more than $75,000 in punitive damages and to have the school record changed to reflect her as the sole valedictorian.
“She worked really really hard with an infant at home and I think she just wants that recognition,” said Frazier.
The school district has not yet filed a response to the suit and attempts to reach Gathen Tuesday afternoon were unsuccessful. Citing the lawsuit, a McGehee School Board member declined to comment.