Michigan Teacher Placed on Leave After Image of Barack Obama Used on Primates Assignment

Michigan Teacher Placed on Leave After Image of Barack Obama Used on Primates Assignment

A teacher at The Roeper School, a private gifted school in Birmingham, Michigan, has been placed on leave after assigning students a worksheet that depicted the former President Barack Obama next to monkeys, with the question, “Which of the following are primates?”

Classes were canceled on Thursday and police patrolled the perimeter of the campus due to alleged online threats, reports Detroit’s WDIV.

“When I saw it I couldn’t believe it,” said the director of diversity for the Detroit suburb school, Carolyn Lett. “It is something that the teacher did. You know, purposefully put this picture in along with the animals and the apes and the primates. I’m trying to understand this myself. But right away I had a reaction, like, ‘It’s so wrong I can’t understand it.’”

Lett revealed the images hurt students and enraged parents. The assignment was given out on May 11, prompting a letter from parents the following day. School officials say they are baffled with what the educator’s purpose was for putting the nation’s first Black president alongside primates. According to the teacher, she wasn’t aware of the sensitivity of her offense.

(Image: Duke University archives)

The Roeper School released a statement on Friday saying, “On behalf of Roeper School’s leadership, we want to acknowledge the disturbing racial offense contained in an assignment with an upper school class last week. The choice to use this piece of curriculum was completely inconsistent with our School’s philosophy and mission and we sincerely apologize for its use and the harm it has caused. While the teacher has taken responsibility and admits the mistake of not properly vetting the resource, we know that is not enough and she has been placed on administrative leave until further notice.”

Per Detroit News, the worksheet was part of an “Apes, monkeys, and lemurs, an introduction to primates” biology class, originally from a Duke University curriculum. A total of 30 students received the racist assignment.

The Roeper School has offered counseling services to students affected. 

The school’s statement concludes with a pledge to more thoroughly review curriculum that could be considered harmful and continue “professional development for faculty and staff in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice work with a specific focus on racial bias and cultural competencies.”