A group of black high school students on Long Island claims their science teacher included racially insensitive images in a class presentation that referenced them as monkeys and now they're planning to sue.
Longwood High School students Jahkeem Moye, Khevin Beaubrun, Gykye Murray and Desmond Dent Jr. said a white teacher presented a slideshow to the class that included a photo of them posing at the Bronx Zoo with the caption "Monkey Do" followed by an image of a gorilla.
The students said they were embarrassed and ashamed by the presentation, according to court documents filed this week. The families served a notice of claim Wednesday indicating their plans to sue Longwood Central School District for discrimination and emotional distress.
"I didn’t know that they were going to put [the photo] in that perspective and show us, compare us to monkeys," Murray told reporters Wednesday.
In the same press conference, Beaubrun said he was threatened by school administrators to delete a Snapchat video that showcased the slideshow presentation or face suspension.
"I said they had used us like slaves. I posted it on Snapchat, on social media, and he asked me to take it down," Beaubrun said, referring to his advanced zoology teacher.
Their attorney claims teachers "deliberately persuaded, tricked and cajoled" them into posing together near a Bronx Zoo gorilla exhibit during a class trip in November. The teacher captured the picture and included it in the class presentation about a month later, according to their attorney.
The teacher, identified only as Mr. Heinrichs, allegedly placed the photo in a slideshow between an image of monkeys with the caption "Monkey See," and an image of a gorilla "thereby misusing the pidgin expression, 'Monkey See, Monkey Do' for racially discriminatory and offensive purposes," according to the notice of claim.
The families plan to sue for $12 million, accusing the school of discriminating against the students and violating their civil rights.
The Longwood School District declined to identify the teacher and would not say if he had been disciplined. The district called the images "culturally insensitive" and attributed the situation to a "lapse of judgement."
"The photo was an unfortunate lapse of judgment," Superintendent of Schools Michael Lonergan said in a statement Wednesday. "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."
But the students' attorney, John Ray, said the teacher involved was still teaching as of this week.
"These students are deeply wounded and shamed," Ray said. "This is institutionalized racial superiority. … There can't be any question about what they meant."
"Remember, this is a zoology class, evolution is taught," he added.