A New York school district is facing a $12 million lawsuit after a science teacher allegedly shared an "outrageously offensive" photo of his students.
The image, shown by a teacher at Longwood High School, was included in a slideshow recapping a class trip to the Bronx Zoo, CBS News reports. One of the photos reportedly showed four black students in front of a gorilla, with the words, "Monkey do," captioned above them.
Many students reportedly perceived that caption as a racial slur, stirring a controversy that will now become a lawsuit. Insider reported that a lawyer representing the four teenagers and their parents filed a suit of claim on Tuesday — typically the first step in bring forth a lawsuit.
Attorney John Ray, the students' lawyer, called the behavior of the teacher, Edward Heinrichs, "outrageously offensive," saying his behavior "insulted and humiliated" the four teens.
"This is not just a case of racism," Heinrichs said at a news conference Wednesday. "This is a case of someone asserting racial inferiority of African American people."
18-year-old Khevin Beaubrun, one of the students in the photo, told Newsday that he captured part of the slideshow on his phone, and shared the image on Snapchat. He added that the incident caused him to lose trust in his teacher.
"I am really disappointed because I trusted my teacher," Beaubrun said. "As an educator, I give him my trust to take the photo and I did not think it was going to be portrayed in that way."
Beaubrun said he was called into the principal's office shortly after posting the photo and was told by school officials that he'd be suspended if he didn't delete from his Snapchat story. He told Newsday that he rejected the requested and was ultimately not suspended.
On Monday, the Longwood Central School District issued a statement condemning the "culturally insensitive" photo, which officials described as "an unfortunate lapse in judgment." The statement added that school officials had met with both the Heinrichs and the families of the students, however, it did not state if Heinrichs had been disciplined in any way.
"We are proud of the diversity at Longwood Schools, and we will continue to provide sensitivity training to our students and staff to raise awareness of our cultural differences," the district's statement read.