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Woman Denied Sole Valedictorian Status Because of Race, Lawsuit Says

School officials allegedly called Wimberly's valedictorian status a "big mess."

ByABC News
July 26, 2011, 4:44 PM

July 26, 2011— -- A black Arkansas teen who graduated top of her class is suing her high school for racial discrimination after the principal decided to name a white student with a lower GPA as co-valedictorian.

Kymberly Wimberly, 18, told ABC News she always dreamed about being at the top of her class at McGehee High School.

"When I found out I was valedictorian, I was ecstatic," she said.

That soon changed when Wimberly's mother, Molly Bratton, who works at the school as a media specialist, overheard school officials saying they wanted to avoid the "big mess" that would happen with Wimberly as valedictorian, the teen said.

The lawsuit alleges there was a "pattern and practice of school administrators and personnel treating the African-American students less favorably than the Caucasian ones."

A white student with a lower GPA was named co-valedictorian.

"I told [the co-valedictorian] this isn't fair. This is an administrative decision," Wimberly said, saying she told the student: "We both know if the tables were turned, there wouldn't be a co-valedictorian."

She said the other student agreed.

Wimberly, who took Advanced Placement and honors courses, managed to maintain the top GPA, even though she gave birth to a daughter during her junior year.

"I'm not going to say it wasn't difficult," she said. "My teachers thought I'd fall flat on my face, but I kept trying to succeed."

Her lawyer, John Walker, said discrimination is unfortunately still present in the school system.

"There's a history of oppression where people don't speak up for themselves," Walker said. "White students are elevated ahead of black students in order to allow that position to be maintained by white students."

The McGehee School District did not respond to ABC News' request for an interview.

Wimberly said she will be attending the University of Arkansas beginning this fall and plans to major in biology.

She is asking for punitive damages and for the school record to be changed, reflecting her as the sole valedictorian for the class of 2011.

"This won't be a repeat at my school," she said.