Emotions ran high at a Longwood Central School District school board meeting Thursday where speakers both supported and criticized a science teacher who last month presented a slideshow with a picture of a monkey next to an image of four black students with captions saying, “Monkey See” and “Monkey Do.”
The educator, Edward Heinrichs, was praised as a “fascinating” and “lovely” teacher by some, including black and Latino students, who said he has always been well-meaning and fiercely dedicated to all students at the district over two decades of teaching. They said he made a “mistake” that should be forgiven.
Others said Heinrichs was kind to them even if they had never taken a course with him.
"The teacher in question cared about his students," said Griffin Bell. a recent graduate from Ridge.
But others said his actions must be punished because they caused real, if incalculable, harm to the students who were distraught when they saw pictures of themselves juxtaposed with a primate — a comparison that has historically been used to demean black people as animals who have not evolved into humanity.
The controversy stems from a trip that Longwood High School students took to the Bronx Zoo on Nov. 5. They were taken by another teacher but the slideshow was shown to two advanced zoology classes on Dec. 20 before the December break.
The PowerPoint slideshow includes a picture of a monkey with the caption "Monkey See." In the next picture, the students can be seen standing behind each other in size order with their hands on each other's heads with the caption "Monkey Do." The next picture is of a gorilla.
“It scars them forever,” said Beverly Dean, one of dozens of speakers who addressed the school board before a crowd of about 300 people at Longwood High School’s auditorium. “What are we going to do for that student when they are 30 years old and have a flashback?”
But Scott Twining, who said his five children were taught by the teacher under fire, said the slideshow had been a feature of the class for many years and students of all colors were included as a joke, not as a slur meant to harm.
“They’re not racist,” he said of the slideshows, adding that he has black relatives and would not hesitate to allow them to be taught by Heinrichs. “They’re meant for fun.”
That address was followed by John Ray, the Miller Place attorney for three families who filed a notice of claim that may lead to a $12 million lawsuit against the district.
Ray, who said there “should be consequences for even good people who make a mistake,” drew heckles from the audience when he said Heinrichs’ supporters were dismissing the racial component of the slideshow. He compared the teacher's actions to what he said were other lapses in history.
"It was a lapse in judgment for all those fine Americans, the Founding Fathers, who owned slaves,” he said, drawing jeers. “That was a lapse in judgment.”
Latisha Moye said, “No, it’s not OK,” referring to the slideshow that featured her son, adding that she is only trying to protect him and was hurt by the image of her son next to primates.
“To put it next to four black kids, knowing our history, is just completely wrong,” she said.