Parents of Black Students Who Were Compared to Monkeys in Class Photo By Teacher Plan to Sue New York School

Maria Perez SAVE THIS
Lawyers say a lawsuit is planned against a New York school district after a racist slideshow compared Black students to monkeys. (Photo cred: Samantha Starr)

The parents of three Black students are planning to file a lawsuit against a New York school district after a teacher reportedly wrote the caption “Monkey Do” above a photo of their children and showed the photo during a racist slideshow. 

In November, students at Longwood High School on Long Island, New York, took a class field trip to the Bronx Zoo, according to a notice of claim reviewed by The North Star. During the field trip, a zoology teacher took a photo of four Black teens in front of a gorilla cage and created a slideshow for the student body that showed the photo with the caption “Monkey See.” The parents of the teens are now filing a lawsuit against the district for the racist caption of the photo.

Quick facts 

  • The claim was filed by the attorney’s Ray, Mitev & Associates on January 7 on behalf of three parents whose children were in the photo. During a trip to the Bronx zoo, a teacher from the school took a photo of four Black students standing in a line with their arms out touching the person in front of them. The photo was shot near the gorilla enclosure at the zoo, according to the claim.
  • From November 5 to December 20, the notice of claim states that the teacher, who has been identified as zoology teacher Mr. Heinrichs, “created and manipulated the aforesaid photo so as to place it as a slide between a slide of monkeys and a slide of a gorilla, then created labels to be placed on the slides as follows: above the monkeys, a sign saying ‘Monkey See,’ and above the students’ slide, a sign saying ‘Monkey Do.’”
  • The lawyers stated that the Heinrichs clearly misused the term “Monkey See, Monkey Do,” for “racially discriminatory and offensive purposes, to indicate that Claimant students as African Americans are actually monkeys or gorillas.”
  • John Ray, the attorney representing the students said in a news release: “Longwood High School’s teachers deliberately created a grossly racist slide show in which African-American Longwood High School students were labeled as ‘monkeys,’ and compared with slides of monkeys and a gorilla. Then Longwood’s administrators tried to coerce students to destroy the evidence of the slides. These students are deeply wounded and shamed. This is intolerable. We are therefore commencing a lawsuit against all who are known to be involved, for twelve million dollars.”
  • Heinrichs gave the slideshow to a second-period zoology teacher to be shown to the student body, according to the claim. 
  • The claim also states that a student who was pictured in the photo recorded the slideshow on his phone and posted it to social media while it was being played in class was threatened and pressured by administrators to delete the evidence or be suspended.
  • Following the news of the pending lawsuit, Dr. Michael R. Lonergan, superintendent of Longwood Central School District said in a statement that the photo was “an unfortunate lapse of judgment.” He also said that the district would continue “to provide sensitivity training to our students and staff to raise awareness of our cultural differences.” No teacher or administrator involved in the incident has been terminated or suspended.  

What They’re Saying

Ray told TNS that the teens involved in the lawsuit are all honors students at the school. He said Heinrichs created the racially insensitive caption for the photos on purpose.

“No sentient human being, especially a teacher, could see that this was a mere lapse in judgment,” Ray said.

The attorney also noted that the students are completely humiliated by a teacher they respected. The claim states that the student’s parents are seeking unspecified damages in the case, but multiple media outlets report the parents plan to sue the district for $12 million. Ray also noted the parents are urging administrators to see the teachers involved in the incident be fired. 

“They’re shamed, fearful and completely hurt that this teacher who they thought was a good guy would look upon them this way,” Ray told TNS.

On Saturday, new photos emerged of more photos like the one involved in the claim with different students of different ethnicities. One student told News 12 Long Island that when the photos were taken back in 2017, and that none of the students thought it was racist then.

“I feel like kids were just laughing, no one sounded offended when the picture came up,” the unnamed student told the news station.

In an updated statement, Ray said that this does not clear Heinrichs.

“These new photos are yet further evidence of the disgraceful, racially-provocative intentions of the white teachers and school district,” said Ray in a press release sent to TNS. “African-American(s) should never be labeled as monkeys, even amongst whites. These white teachers intentionally created a show to mimic old, racially offensive depictions of evolution from monkey to white man.”
“The African-Americans were betrayed by the school and these teachers. There is a price to pay for their lapse in judgement,” Ray continued.

This story was updated to provide an updated statement from the attorney.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including NewsweekJuvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.


Join The Conversation

Join the Conversation