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School Refuses to Name Its No. 1 Student Valedictorian. Is That Because She's Black?

valedictorian, graduate class

Grades weren't the only factor when deciding on who should be honored as valedictorian of MeGehee Secondary Schools class of 2011.

On paper, Arkansas’ Kymberly Wimberly was the best student in her graduating class at MeGehee Secondary School. In four years, loaded down with AP courses, she got only a single B in her otherwise A grades. Wimberly had a higher GPA than any other student in her class, and yet the school refused to honor her as the sole valedictorian at graduation.

Molly Bratton, Wimberly’s mother, thinks her daughter was forced to share the honor with a lesser student because her girl flunked the test for being white.

Courthouse News Service reports that Bratton, the school’s certified media specialist, is alleging in a discrimination complaint that the school’s refusal to name her daughter valedictorian is part of a pattern of discrimination against its black students. In the federal complaint, Bratton says she overheard “in the copy room [the day Wimberly was told she'd be valedictorian] other school personnel express concern that Wimberly’s status as valedictorian might cause a ‘big mess.’”

Bratton says she told Principal Darrell Thompson who said “that he decided to name a white student as co-valedictorian,” although the white student had a lower G.P.A.,” according to the complaint. Bratton also alleges that she wasn’t allowed to speak out about the decision at a school board meeting. Also named in her suit is Superintendent Thomas Gathen, who says Bratton did not fill out the proper paperwork for speaking up at the meeting and that she’d have to wait until the next meeting — which would be held after graduation.

Bratton accuses MeGehee of having a history of discouraging its African American students, who make up 46 percent of the school’s population, from taking Advanced Placement courses, a practical requirement for being considered the best student in the class. The last time a black student achieved valedictorian status at the school was in 1989.

But I have to wonder if being black was the only reason administrators were scared to let Wimberly represent the Class of 2011.

Sure, there’s plenty of evidence that in many schools around the country, African American students aren’t taking AP courses as much as their white and Asian cohorts.  MeGehee could easily be one of those schools — I’ll be interested to see what a judge says about this. However, buried in the Courthouse News Service story is one fact about Wimberly that may also be coming into play — Wimberly, apparently, is a mother.

Not that it should matter.

In fact, if naming someone valedictorian really is based on grades and course-level difficulty, and Wimberly — being pregnant, having a baby and possibly writing papers with a toddler underfoot still managed to do better than anyone else at school? Well, I say the school should have embraced the “big mess” and shown her off as the star that she is.

Photo: David Michael Morris via flickr


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