MIDDLE ISLAND, NY — Three students plan to file a $12 million lawsuit stemming from what their attorney called an “offensively racist slideshow” that compared four black students at Longwood High School to monkeys.
A photo of four children captioned “Monkey Do” was taken at the Bronx Zoo during a field trip, attorneys for three of the kids said. The photo was then used in a slideshow “for racially discriminatory and offensive purposes” and shown to students in a zoology class, the lawyers said. When a student recorded it on video, school administrators then pressured — and even threatened to suspend him — if he didn’t destroy the evidence, the law firm said.
Three of the students’ caretakers worked with the Miller Place law firm Ray, Mitev & Associates to create a notice of claim against the Longwood Central School District, agents and employees. John Ray, the students’ attorney, said in a news release the high school allowed white teachers to label four black students monkeys during a school-sponsored slide show.
“Longwood High School’s teachers deliberately created a grossly racist slide show in which African-American Longwood High School students were labelled as ‘monkeys,’ and compared with slides of monkeys and a gorilla,” he said. “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.”
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It all started Nov. 5 at the zoo when teachers “deliberately persuaded, tricked and cajoled” the students into posing together in front of the gorilla enclosure, according to two mothers and a grandfather of the three students. Photographs of the students were snapped with the intention of including them in a school slideshow where the kids would be “depicted as monkeys and/or gorillas,” the lawyers said.
From Nov. 5 through Dec. 20, a teacher altered the photo to include the racially charged caption and placed it as a slide between slides of monkeys and a gorilla, the attorneys said. The phrase was misused in an effort to be racist to indicate “that claimant students as African-Americans are actually monkeys or gorillas,” the notice of claim said.
The teacher gave the slideshow to another zoology teacher to be shown to students, which it was, causing the students to feel “ridicule, embarrassment and shame, anxiety, fear and emotional harm,” the attorneys said.
A boy pictured in the slideshow recorded video of it, according to the notice of claim. School authorities took him to administrative offices where administrators demanded he delete the evidence, the lawyers said. If he refused, he faced a possible suspension.
The “threats and pressure caused [the student] to experience anguish, anxiety, fear, embarrassment and humiliation,” the attorneys said.
The law firm said the acts by those involved in the slideshow and coercion are unlawfully discriminatory, violate Federal Title IX, violate the students’ civil rights, are defamatory and intentionally inflicted extreme emotional distress.
Parents were furious over the caption on the photo, which appeared to show black students in a single-file line with hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them.
One parent told News 12 Long Island it was “very disturbing.”