Oakland County teacher on leave after assignment depicts Barack Obama alongside primates

‘When I saw it I couldn’t believe it’

A local teacher is put on leave over an offensive assignment she handed out in class, depicting a former president alongside several primates.

OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. – An Oakland County teacher is on leave over an offensive assignment she handed out in class that depicted a former president alongside several primates.

The assignment asked, “Which of the following are primates?” and showed former President Barack Obama alongside several animals.

Now The Roeper School in Oakland County is trying to make sense of what happened and determine what the teacher intended. Regardless of intent, students and families are upset over the worksheet.

There were no classes held on Thursday (May 19) and police were stationed outside the school because of threats made online.

Carolyn Lett is the Director of Diversity for the school. She said she spoke with the teacher and had plenty of questions.

“When I saw it I couldn’t believe it,” Lett said. “is it 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 said the offensive images have hurt students. She asked the teacher what she will do next.

“She had her biology hat on but didn’t realize the sensitivity and awareness she should have had culturally,” Lett said.

Lett said Roeper is gathering all the facts and will present them to families to move forward.

Read: More local news coverage

The Roeper School released the following statement on Friday (May 20):

“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.

“The Roeper School was founded in 1941 by educational pioneers George and Annemarie Roeper, who after fleeing Germany to escape Nazi persecution, established our school with the goal of educating children to become thoughtful, humane adults. As a school with a deep commitment to social justice for over 80 years, we must demonstrate greater care in the selection of content designed to guide our students. We remain committed to doing the important work of educating ourselves and the community in diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, and yet on this occasion, we did not live up to those core values. We know that our work in cultural competencies is vital and must be ongoing to ensure an inclusive learning environment for our students.

“To that end, we will be immediately implementing the following:

“Greater care and more thorough review of curriculum with a specific focus on cultural competencies.

“Continuing professional development for faculty and staff in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice work with a specific focus on racial bias and cultural competencies.

“Counseling and support resources for our students.”

About the Authors:

Local 4 Defender Shawn Ley is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been with Local 4 News for more than a decade.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.