Kymberly Wimberly will face the McGehee School District in a jury trial on August 6, 2012 at 9:30 am in Pine Bluff Federal Court Room 3602 before Judge Susan Wright.
On July 21, 2011 attorney John Walker filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Wimberly claiming the McGehee School District racially discriminated against the black Wimberly by naming a second (white) valedictorian even though Wimberly had the highest GPA. Wimberly demands that the white valedictorian be stripped of her title and that she receives $75,000 in punitive damages from the district.
A Recap of Wimberly’s complaint:
#1 & #2 explains Wimberly’s right to sue and why the Pine Bluff federal court has jurisdiction over this case
#3 describes Wimberly
#4 describes the McGehee School district
#5 describes the McGehee School Board. “On information and belief, the School Board is predominantly Caucasian” -see #7
#6 describes the principal, Darrell Thompson, and notes he is “Caucasian”
#7 describes the superintendent, Thomas Gathen. “Gathen is African-American but serves at the pleasure of the predominantly Caucasian School Board”
The school board has seven members: three African-Americans, three Caucasians, and one Asian.
School Board at time of the class of 2011 graduation
William Campbell-President, African-American
Joe Herren-Vice-President, Caucasian
Katie Daniels-Secretary, African-American
Clarke Pugh, Caucasian
Alice Banks, African-American
Toby Young, Caucasian
Jeff Owyoung, Asian
The complaint lists #8-#29 as FACTS
#8 Wimbelry’s grades were all A’s except one ‘B’ and that she had an “honors and AP laden course load”
So did the white student. After reviewing the white student’s final transcript, the white student had three Advanced Placement classes, worth 5-points each, and one ‘B’ in physical science, a regular 4-point class. According to several students in their class and interviews Wimberly made to many news organizations, Wimberly also took three Advanced Placement classes and made one ‘B’ in 11th grade English, also a regular 4-point class. I also contacted Wimberly but she did not return my message.
#9 After receiving her ‘B’ Wimberly’s class rank dropped so she took more Honors and AP classes to raise her rank.
Based on my calculations and interviews with the white valedictorian, Wimberly was rank 1 until she made the ‘B’ during the middle of her 11th grade year. At this time the white student was taking two AP classes in which she made A’s while Wimberly only had one AP class. The extra AP class on the 5-point scale bumped the white student to rank 1 and Wimberly to a lower rank. Also honors classes do not raise G.P.A only Advanced Placement classes and McGehee does not offer extra honor classes only the four required for the honor diploma.
#10 “[S]chool administrators and personnel treated two other white students as heir apparent to the valedictorian and salutatorian spots”
Is this a fact or a perception?
#11 & #12 The school counselor told Wimberly’s mother that Wimberly had the highest GPA. Wimberly’s mother was the high school media specialist.
Nothing mentioned here about the counselor telling Wimberly’s mother that she was the only valedictorian; just that she had the highest GPA. See #17
#13 Wimberly’s mother was overjoyed with the news
#14 Wimberly’s mother immediately passed the news on to Wimberly and told her “she had the highest G.P.A and was therefore the valedictorian”
In quoting a piece I published in the McGehee Times-News: “[F]or some reason this case wants to discredit the honor of co-valedictorian from the original word, ‘valedictorian.’ Many schools across the country honor more than one valedictorian in a single class, and schools sometime label these valedictorians as “multiple valedictorians” or “co-valedictorians” or in the case of Jericho High School “creative valedictorians” or they may just describe them each as “the valedictorian.” Just as someone might say, “I’m turning onto the road now,” the term ‘road’ represents almost anywhere someone drives a car and ‘the’ is just a reference to which one. ‘The’ valedictorian simply references a particular valedictorian and is not synonymous with ‘sole.’ Regardless of which way a school labels multiple valedictorians, the title still means the same, Rank 1. In the world of transcripts, we don’t say “½ of 1” rank. We say rank 1. We just add the ‘co’ as a mere warning to readers and graduation attendees that this class happens to have more than one top achiever.” In 2006, McGehee had four valedictorians. In 1997, McGhee had three valedictorians.
#15 Someone in the school copy room “expressed concern [to Wimberly’s mother] that Wimberly’s status as valedictorian might cause a ‘big mess’”
From the middle of their junior year, the white valedictorian was ranked #1 and had only made ‘A’s since that ‘B’ during their ninth grade year. How can you lose rank 1or even have a lower G.P.A if you have the same number of AP classes as the student with the highest GPA, you made A’s in those AP classes, and you both have only one ‘B’ each in a regular class? Perhaps that was the big mess-GPA calculations, not the color of their skin. However, this fact is nothing more than a statement of idle gossip. Also, the complaint fails to mention the name of the other party who ‘expressed concern.’ See #17
#16 Wimberly’s mother went to Superintendent Gathen for assurance. He told her Wimberly was the valedictorian.
Wimberly was indeed the valedictorian. Period. Also if Gathen told Wimberly’s mother anything regarding the white student’s class rank or GPA before the parents of the white student were notified, Gathen would be violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA prevents school officials from discussing a student’s record which includes GPA and grades with someone other than that student’s parents.
#17 Wimberly’s mother was told by Principal Thompson that a white student would be named co-valedictorian. “[H]e made that decision after reading something in the handbook”
Here is that something: And it a BIG something!!!
From the McGehee Student handbooks 2006 through 2010. Taken from pg. 12 Handbook 2010-11
The determination of class rank will be:
$ Students will be ranked by grade point averages.
$ Grades from all four years of an accredited high school will be used; including Algebra I taken in the 8th grade.
$ The final senior ranking will be figured at the end of the school year.
$ If two or more students take the same or equivalent course work and receive the same grades of “A”, a student with a greater number of courses will not be penalized.
The white student took an extra course-Advanced Music, giving her 28.5 credits. Wimberly had 28 credits. The extra 0.5 credit was a regular class worth 4-points. Any 4-point class will lower a student’s GPA after the student made an ‘A’ in an Advanced Placement class. This phenomenon is as much a fact as a2 + b2 =c2.
#18 “Gathe[n] explained that Thompson approached him about the white student…[and] he affirmed Thompson’s decision to have the white student with the lower G.P.A. also listed as a valedictorian.”
In a conversation I shared with Gathen on Sept. 27, he said “I’m the one who caught the mistake.” He showed both the counselor and the principal the student handbook and made the decision to have two valedictorians.
According to the former counselor who helped write the class rank policy prior to the 2005-06 handbook, the district wanted a policy that assured students would take as many classes as they wanted since the district did not offer many AP classes. In 2006, there was only one AP class offered, calculus. The state legislation passed a law in 2004-05 requiring all schools to offer at least one Advanced Placement class in science, English, history, and math by the 2007-08 school year. Also Advanced Placement classes must be worth 5-points. Without such a policy, students who received credit for band or music or physics would not be valedictorian if there were other students who took non-credit classes such as study hall or athletics, and the students had the same grades and the same number of AP classes. The Monticello school district has the same policy in their student handbook.
#19 The counselor sent out a press release with only Wimberly as valedictorian. They then sent out a retraction.
The local paper did publish Wimberly as Valedictorian and the white student as Salutatorian. In a later paper, both students had pictures from the governor’s banquet but the paper did not denote either student as valedictorian or salutatorian only as a “McGehee high school graduate.”
#20 Wimberly protested the decision to Gathen.
#21 Wimberly’s mother filled out the wrong form to address the school board at the May school board meeting, and Gathen would not allow her to talk until the June 27th meeting
#22 The last African-American valedictorian was in 1989
#22 & #23 The district is 46% African-American. “African-American students were by large regulated to the regular classes by school administration and personnel. … Caucasian student had to almost opt out of being assigned to the honor’s track. Conversely –or perversely, African American students had to make an effort to be considered for the honor’s track.”
Actually, test scores regulate who takes advanced classes. And here are McGehee’s test scores by race for Wimberly’s class according to the NORMES website. Also remember state tests measure basic knowledge.
2007 8th grade literacy 14.3% proficient and 2.4% advanced for African-American and 39.7% proficient and 8.6% advanced for Caucasian students.
2008 Algebra I (8th and 9th grade) 35.7% proficient and 7.1% advanced for African-American students compared to 54.8% proficient and 14.3% advanced for Caucasian students.
2009 Geometry (10th or 11th grade) 62.5% proficient and 6.3% advanced for African-American students compared to 83.9% proficient and 12.9% advanced for Caucasian.
2009 Biology (10th grade) 16.7% proficient and 4.8% advanced for African-American students compared to 45.1% proficient and 11.8% advanced for Caucasian students.
2010 11th grade literacy 47.5% of African-American’s proficient compared to 62.3% Caucasian’s proficient. No one advanced in either demographic group.
The McGehee handbook suggests that the only honor classes offered besides AP are Pre AP English I, Pre AP English, College Prep English III, and College Prep English IV (all 4-point, regular classes). However, the McGehee course codes from the Arkansas Department of Education do not distinguish between honors and non-honors courses. All students are enrolled in English 9, English 10, and so on or in Advanced Placement English. Therefore, we do not know how many students or their race for those enrolled in the pre AP or College Prep English classes. Students would opt into the pre-AP English classes in the 9th grade year based on their test score performance and grades from their 8th grade year. If a student did not enroll in the 9th grade pre-AP English class they would not be eligible as an honor graduate nor valedictorian or salutatorian.
#25 “Out of seven (7) total students for the 2010-2011 school year, only (1) African American student, Wimberly, ended up enrolling in that teacher’s class. Conversely, the non-Caucasian Advanced Placement Biology teacher encouraged all the McGehee students to enroll in her class. Resultantly, four (4) out of eight (8) Advanced Placement Biology students in the 2011-2012 school year were African-American.”
According to the Arkansas Department of Education1, in 2010-11 McGhee offered 4 AP classes with a total enrollment of 32 students. Of those, 22 students were white. The data does not distinguish if a student is counted twice. Wimberly, for example, took AP Biology and AP English IV, so she would be counted twice. In 2009-10, Wimberly’s junior year, McGehee offered 5 AP classes with a total enrollment of 56 students. Of those, 32 were white. In 2007-08, McGehee offered 3 AP classes with a total enrollment of 28 students. Of those, 14 were white. In all three years, McGehee High School was 46% African-American and 51% Caucasian.
Also, the district did not hire that non-Caucasian teacher until after students had already selected their classes for the 2010-11 school year (students chose their classes the prior spring), so unless she had some psychic powers and/or made friends on Facebook with the students of McGehee prior to her hire date, it is highly unlikely she “encouraged” all McGehee students to enroll in her class.
#26 “[N]one of the Advanced Placement Teacher are African-American”
Another wrong fact. According to the Arkansas Department of Education and confirmed by school sources, the AP English III teacher in 2010-11 was indeed African-American. She taught 8 students in which 7 were white.
#27 The district named the white student valedictorian intentionally to hurt Wimberly because of “continuous disparate treatment of African-American students” by the school district personnel.
So far the only disparate treatment described in this claim is that one AP English teacher warned Wimberly the work would be hard. According to school sources, this teacher also taught Wimberly in College Prep English III, the class Wimberly earned her ‘B’
#28 & #29 The school district does not support African American students, but most importantly, they do not support Wimberly, a teen-age mother. If the roles were reversed and the white student had a higher GPA then the white student would have been the only other valedictorian.
In the current federal education system, penalties from No Child Left Behind ensure schools support all students at least at the proficiency level. By 2014, 100% of a school’s students must be proficient or the state could take over the school if the school is not showing signs of improvement. One problem with NCLB is the focus on the lower performing students. Advanced students almost have to fend for themselves, regardless of race, and this is exactly why parental involvement is so important. Parents should not only be encouraging their students to take more rigorous courses and to make good grades, but parents should also know the student handbooks and school policies. Every student is given a student handbook at the end of the year and most handbooks, such as McGehee, is also online.
If the district’s main agenda was to discriminate against Wimberly for race or for being an un-wed mother they simply could have said that the white student had more credits, more ‘A’s and therefore was the sole valedictorian and violating the first part of their class rank policy. Instead their only goal was to follow the student handbook. Unfortunately, some school personnel jumped the gun and started making announcements without reviewing the handbook or discussing the situation with other administrators. Had the administration continued down that path, they would have been in complete violation of the student handbook. By declaring both students valedictorian they were then clearly following the class rank policy.
The problem with ‘what ifs’ and ‘reversing roles’ is just that. No one knows what would happen in an alternate universe. We can only assume. The bullet question is then in a court of law, are assumptions valid evidence?
Violation of Wimberly’s 14th Amendment rights.
#30 & #31 The school district has violated all African-American students rights in the McGehee school system, including Wimberly’s.
#32 This treatment is a “violation of [Wimberly’s] rights under the Equal Protection Act and the Constitution of the United States.”
#33 School district administrators were racially motivated to deprive Wimberly “of her position as valedictorian”
Especially considering those administrators and school board members are equally composed of both races.
#34 Wimberly was not given due process when Gathen did not allow Wimberly’s mother to speak at the May school board meeting
#35 & #36 Arkansas State Constitution also protects Wimberly’s rights
#37 & #38 “[S]chool districts across the State must provide substantially equal educational opportunities”
Providing equal educational opportunities does not mean filling advanced classes with warm bodies just so the classes represent the demographics of the school. Advanced Placement students above all have to be motivated to take those classes. Most schools are willing to work with students not quite prepared for the course load, but again the keys for success in those classes are student motivation, student willingness to put in the extra effort, and a support system at home.
#39 The McGehee school personnel intentionally created a “hostile educational environment” for African-American students.
Obviously, not all personnel or administrators discriminate. The administrators did hire that non-Caucasian AP biology teacher who “encourages” all students to take her classes, and most importantly, they hired the school counselor who registered those students in her class before she arrived. This is also the same counselor who the year prior enrolled 24 minority students out of 56 total students in 5 AP classes and two years prior enrolled 14 minority students out of 28 total students in 3 AP classes
#40 Wimberly wants a declaration that the school district discriminates against black students, she wants to be the “sole valedictorian” of the Class of 2011 (although the white student took more classes than her and had the exact same grades as she did), she wants the school district to correct all records, and she wants $75,000 granted to her by the district.
Just remember that $75,000 is two teachers’ salaries, repairs for the school, field trip money, new textbooks, school computers, or science lab supplies. It is money used to pay for the education of all those other African-American students Wimberly claims the school discriminated against. Apparently, for Wimberly that does not matter since McGehee was just removed from the state’s financial distress list last year after a huge and successful rally by local residents of both races to raise the local mileage and save the schools from a state takeover.
Other court dates for this trail
March 9, 2012 Discoveries due
May 9, 2012 Motions due
July 6, 2012 Pre/Trial disclosure sheet due
1. The Arkansas Department of Education course enrollment data duplicates black male for black female and Hispanic male for Hispanic female. I contacted them about a correction, but for now, we can only make conclusions about white students, total students, and overall minority students which include Asians, Native Americans, Blacks, and Hispanics. McGhee’s high school population from 2008 to 2011 is 46% African-American, 51% Caucasian and 3% other minority groups. Therefore, McGehee’s minority students are more than predominately African –American.