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‘Planned, Thought Out, Premeditated’: Angry Students, Parents Force Out Ohio Teacher Following Black History Month Announcement with an Orangutan

An Ohio teacher is out of a job after an image was shown during a Black History Month segment featuring an orangutan eating a watermelon.

Community uproar led by angry parents and students pressured the unnamed teacher at Bexley Middle School in suburban Columbus to submit his resignation.

“This was a planned, thought out, premeditated, intentional, deliberate insult,” one parent said to school district officials.

On Feb. 3, students attending Bexley Middle School in Bexley, Ohio, saw a photo of an orangutan eating watermelon on a green screen immediately following a Black History Month fact segment during the morning announcements.

Bexley Middle School has 549 students enrolled. About 80 percent of them are white, and 8 percent identify as Black, according to Public School Review.

The racist image sparked immediate outrage among students.

“We are the children who sat there and had to look at the image the whole time in the news show. It was hurtful. It was wrong altogether,” Damiah Milner, a seventh grader told WSYX.

The students’ parents were equally as upset.

“I really don’t believe your school is really trying to do something about it because if you were, you would have fired that guy immediately, swift justice,” a parent said to Bexley City officials.

Hours after the racist image appeared on school televisions to the dismay of many, the Bexley Middle School Principal and Assistant Principal sent a letter to parents explaining to them what happened.

“After this morning’s school announcements, which featured a historical fact as part of Black History Month, an image of an orangutan eating a watermelon appeared on the green screen background. This was and is highly offensive to our staff and students and does not align with our values as a district.”

The letter went on to say an investigation was immediately launched and apologized.

Bexley Middle School Principal and Asst. Principal sent a letter to parents apologizing for the offensive image shown during the school announcements. (Photo: Bexley Middle School)

School superintendent, Jason Fine, issued a statement saying the image, “directly targets and reinforces racist tropes and stereotypes about Black people.”

Fine went on to assure Black students are welcomed and feel a sense of belonging.

The next school day on Feb. 6, Principal Jason Caudill delivered the school announcements and dedicated a portion of the presentation to explaining why an image of a primate eating watermelon was racially offensive.

“While there is nothing inherently racist about primates or watermelons, these symbols have long been used to dehumanize Black people. Regardless of the intent in using that imagery, it harms those whom it targets,” Caudill said.

Caudill went on to illustrate a historical backdrop to why primates and watermelons have been used to mock Black people.

“There are historical records dated back to the 1600s when Europeans held the stereotype of Black people as apelike,” he said.

“After emancipation in the 1860s, one of the crops that southern Black people grew and sold to earn a living was watermelons…The media of the time also promoted the idea that Black Americans had a pathological weakness for watermelon,” Caudill continued.

As school officials tried to get a handle on the situation, frustrated parents continued to lambast them. Carl Woodford is a father of five and has a 13-year-old daughter attending Bexley Middle School. He told WSYX he is considering a lawsuit.

“Let’s go, gang. Here’s an orangutan and a damn watermelon. This typifies Black people. What are we going to do next year? An ape and some chicken? I’m tired and I’m done, and I know how to sue” Woodford told WCMH.

A screenshot of Donnice Sharae speaking to Bexley, Ohio, city officials about the racist image shown during a Black History Month segment at Bexley Middle School. (Photo: Facebook/Donnice Sharae)

Columbus resident Donnice Sharae, who is Black and has a child attending the school took to Facebook to share her outrage.

“I was outraged and simply livid! There were no words to describe how disappointed and disgusted I was. The feeling you feel as a parent when you send your kids to get an education and they are subjected to ignorance, racism in the most blatant forms!” Sharae said.

Bexley Middle School students staged a walkout protesting a teacher showing an image of an orangutan eating watermelon during a Black History Month segment. (Photo: Facebook/Donnice Sharae)

Students took action themselves to express their unified displeasure over the racist image and staged a walkout on Feb. 10.

Milner was one of the organizers of the walkout. She told WBNS, “we’re so tired of waiting for someone to do something.”

“I was confused. I was angry. There were so many emotions going on in my head,” Milner went on to say.

A week after the racist image first appeared, the unnamed teacher submitted his resignation.

School superintendent Fine said the resignation was effective immediately, and the unnamed teacher “will not be permitted in any classroom buildings or work with any students.”

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