A group of New York City teens and their families are ready to take their local school district to court after a teacher put up a photo comparing the youths to monkeys.
The offending image was shown ahead of the holiday break as part of a slideshow presentation for an advanced zoology class at Longwood High School in Long Island, according to the New York Daily News. The photo, showing the students lined up single file with their hands in each other’s heads, was captioned “Monkey do.”
The image was reportedly snapped during a visit to the Bronx Zoo.
“These students are deeply wounded and shamed. This is intolerable,” said John Ray, an attorney for the teens, all of whom are African-American.
Khevin Beaubrun, Desmond Dent Jr., Jahkeem Moye and Gykye Murray are now preparing to sue the Longwood Central School District for $12 million over the “offensively racist slideshow.” Speaking to local outlet ABC 7, Beaubrun recalled how teachers instructed him and his friends to line up and pose for the photo.
“Us four, we all felt uncomfortable with this,” Beaubrun said. “We all thought it was weird.”
The picture was later shown during a class presentation that included photos of monkeys and gorillas. A slide featuring an image of an ape was captioned “Monkey see,” and the next image was that of the four teens that read “Monkey do.”
“I didn’t know, like that they were going to put it in that perspective and show us, compare us to monkeys,” Moye told the outlet.
It was Beaubrun who snapped a photo of the photo during the classroom presentation and shared it on social media, where it sparked outrage and concern among parents. That is when school officials reportedly tried to “coerce [the] students to destroy evidence of the slides,” according to their lawyer.
Beaubrun’s mother, Johanne Beaubrun, was upset after learning of the photo, calling it “racist and insensitive.”
“This is not a joke,” Latisha Moye, a parent of one of the other teens, added. “This is not funny to compare our children to animals.”
Longwood school district officials have since addressed the controversy, acknowledging that the photo was “culturally insensitive.” They defended the teacher, however, dubbing the incident an “unfortunate lapse in judgment.”
“Without the intent of doing so, the photo was taken without fully understanding the sensitivity or the hurt it may have caused and reminds us that we must be more aware of the feelings of our multi-cultural population,” the district said in a statement.
Since returning from winter break, school officials said they’ve met with the teacher, families of the students involved and community members. The educator in question hasn’t been named, but the students’ lawsuit identifies him as Edward Heinricks, according to ABC7.
The district hasn’t said whether Heinricks will face any disciplinary action in the incident. However, the teens and their parents are asking for a public apology and that the teacher be suspended without pay.
“When kids make mistakes, they have to deal with the consequences,” Moye told News 12 Long Island. “He’s an adult, especially being 22 years a teacher, he should know what and what not to do, especially putting animals to a face.”
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