Parents plan to sue a New York school district for $12 million after one of its teachers allegedly wrote the phrase “Monkey do” above a photograph of four African American students who attended a class trip to the Bronx Zoo in November.
A science teacher at Longwood High School took the photo of the four zoology students and then included the image in a slideshow that was shown to the class right before holiday recess, according to reports.
The photograph shows the teenagers lined up one behind another with their left arms outstretched and resting upon the heads of the classmate in front of them.
According to a notice of claim filed in the case, the photograph of the students was taken near a gorilla exhibit and said the students were unwittingly “tricked and cajoled” into posing for the image.
The following month, the photo reportedly appeared in class as part of a PowerPoint slideshow, sandwiched between separate photographs of a gorilla and another monkey with a caption that read “Monkey See.”
John Ray, the lawyer for the families, said the photo violated the students' civil rights and compares them to animals.
“There can’t be any question about what they meant,” Ray said to CBS News. “Remember, this is a zoology class. Evolution is taught.”
The notice of claim, which precedes the filing of a lawsuit, states that the students felt embarrassed and ashamed when the image appeared in class.
"I didn't know that they were going to put in that perspective and show us, compare us to monkeys." — Longwood High School junior Gykye Murray
“I didn't know that they were going to put in that perspective and show us, compare us to monkeys,” Longwood High School junior Gykye Murray told CBS News.
Another student, senior Khevin Beaubrun, told CBS News that he made a recording of the slideshow with his cellphone but was told he’d be suspended if he didn’t destroy it.
“I said they had used us like slaves,” Beaubrun told CBS News. “I posted (a video about) it on Snapchat, social media, and (I was asked) to take it down.”
Parents said they were shocked.
“The whole picture and the caption was very upsetting because it was comparing our kids to a monkey or a gorilla,” Latisha Moye, a mother of one of the students, said to News 12 Long Island.
Administrators with the Longwood Central School District said the field trip and “monkey see-monkey do” slideshow had been a class tradition for at least a decade, and that over the years students from all racial backgrounds had posed for the photos.
"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 multicultural population." — Superintendent Michael Lonergan, Longwood Central School District
Michael Lonergan, superintendent of the Longwood Central School District, issued a statement Wednesday acknowledging the photo as an “unfortunate lapse of 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 multicultural population,” he said.
None of the four students have returned to class since the incident, according to Newsday.
The science teacher has not been named.