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Valedictorian Files Lawsuit Against School District

An African American high school graduate recently sued her school district and several of its officials. Except for one “B”, Kymberly Wimberly earned all “A’s” during her entire tenure at McGehee Secondary School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. She also completed several advanced courses and earned numerous academic awards.

valedictorian.jpgDespite this exemplary record and having the highest grade point average (“GPA”) in her class, Kymberly was denied the designation of sole valedictorian. Her lawsuit alleges that racial discrimination was the underlying motivation.

Her legal complaint (available HERE) posits that school administrators favored two white students as “heir[s] apparent” to the coveted “Valedictorian” and “Salutatorian” titles.

Kymberly’s mother, Molly Bratton, claims to have overheard educators express concern that acknowledging Kymberly’s rightful place in the Class of 2011 might create a “mess.” The following day, school principal Darrell Thompson told Bratton that a white student whose GPA was lower than Kimberley’s would be “co-valedictorian.”

School Superintendent Thomas Gathen purportedly prevented Bratton from protesting the co-nomination at a subsequent school board meeting. His stated reason was Bratton’s “failure” to complete the correct grievance form. Gathen also precluded Bratton from appealing his decision until after Kymberly’s graduation.

Per court documents, school officials engaged in a pervasive pattern of racial discrimination. Nearly half of the student body is African American. Nonetheless, more than two decades have passed since a Black pupil’s nomination as class valedictorian.

Kymberly’s suit seeks injunctive relief to compel her retroactive nomination as sole valedictorian. She is also demanding punitive damages.

The outcome of this case depends largely upon whether the court finds that school officials’ denial of Kymberly’s status as sole valedictorian constituted intentional discrimination. Because it is a mental state, intent is always impossible to prove categorically. It may, however, be extrapolated from the circumstances that surround an act or event.

If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, or school employment law, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.