SUFFOLK COUNTY, Long Island (WABC) — Four African-American high school students and their families are planning to sue the Longwood Central School District on Long Island after a teacher reportedly showed a slideshow presentation in class that referenced the students as monkeys.
“These students are deeply wounded and shamed,” attorney John Ray said. “This is intolerable.”
The pictures of the students were taken during a trip in November to the Bronx Zoo as part of an advanced zoology class.
According to students Jahkeem Moye, Khevin Beaubrun, Gykye Murray and Desmond Dent Jr., two teachers instructed them to stand in a line and face each other, while putting their hands on the back of their heads.
“Us four, we all felt uncomfortable with this,” Beaubrun said. “We all thought it was weird.”
The picture was shown in a slideshow presentation of the trip to students during class on December 20. It had a caption above it that read “monkey do.” The students said the picture was included in a section of monkey and gorilla photos.
“I didn’t know, like that they were going to put it in that perspective and show us, compare us to monkeys,” Moye said.
Beaubrun snapped a picture of the photo during the slideshow presentation and immediately posted it on Snapchat. He said the assistant principal asked him to take it down, which he refused.
“I told him, ‘I believe it’s wrong,'” Beaubrun said.
The families are intending to sue the school district for $12 million for emotional distress and violation of their civil rights.
“This is not a joke,” parent Latisha Moye said. “This is not funny to compare our children to animals.”
The Longwood School District said in a statement to Eyewitness News that the photo was culturally insensitive.
“The photo was an unfortunate lapse of judgement,” the district said in the statement. “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 since returning from the winter break, the superintendent and high school administration have met with the teacher, the families involved and members of the community. The district would not identify the teacher and would not say whether the teacher was disciplined or terminated.
The teacher is identified as Edward Heinricks in the lawsuit, and according to the students, Heinricks is still teaching.
Parent Desmond Dent Sr. said he met with administrators and they showed him slideshows the teacher has done in the past of the class trip to the Bronx Zoo, which included white students doing the same pose with the same “monkey do” caption. Dent Sr. said administrators presented it to him to try to point out that the teacher didn’t single out the African-American students.
“It’s just tasteless,” he said. “And if the kids can pick up on it, how does an adult not?”
Dent Sr. and Gykye’s grandfather Butch Murray said administrators also showed them slideshow pictures from a previous year, which featured a picture of a lion, then three African-American girls with the caption, “Not all animals are cute.”