Wimberly, who is black, alleges in a lawsuit that McGehee Secondary School Principal Darrell Thompson assigned a white student with a lower GPA as co-valedictorian after she was named the sole valediction. She’s asking for $75,000 in damages and for the school record to be corrected, according to the suit.
Molly Bratton, Wimberly’s mother who works as the school’s media specialist, learned of her daughter’s honor from the school counselor. But shortly after, said she overhead someone in the copy room saying the happy event was a “big mess.” Bratton confirmed that her daughter was top of the class with Superintendent Thomas Gathen, but Thompson then informed Gathen he had named a co-valedictorian.
Wimberly told her co-valedictorian the decision wasn’t “fair,” she said in an interview with ABC News. “We both know if the tables were turned, there wouldn’t be a co-valedictorian.”
McGehee Secondary School’s student body is 46 percent African American, according to the complaint.
Superintendent Thomas Gathen, who is named as a co-defendant, told CNN that the decision wasn’t “racially motivated.”
“That wasn’t an issue with (the co-valedictorians),” he said. “This is strictly an academic issue and a policy issue, not a racial issue.”
In the school’s handbook the only requirement for becoming valedictorian or salutatorian is being enrolled at the school for “the last two semesters without transferring during this time.”
When determining class rank, a student who takes more courses but has a lower GPA will not be “penalized.” This is the case now, according to Gathen, who told CNN the co-valediction had half a credit more in course work and either .03 or .05 less in GPA.
Wimberly also alleges that black students were dissuaded from taking Advance Placement courses.
“There's a history of oppression where people don't speak up for themselves,” her attorney, John Walker, told ABC. “White students are elevated ahead of black students in order to allow that position to be maintained by white students.”
Thompson and the school district have not commented.
“You stand up, and you fight for what you believe in, my dad told me," Wimberly, who now attends college at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, told Reuters. “This is your first battle, and we will stand by you, they said.”