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Racist assignment given out at Roeper School

By Lisa Brody



Photo: Duke University

A biology teacher gave out an assignment earlier this month to students at The Roeper School's Upper School titled 'introduction to primates,' which included a photograph of former President Barack Obama.


According to a report by Fox-2 News Detroit on Wednesday, May 18, at the private high school, located at 1051 Oakland Avenue in Birmingham, an assignment that was part of the biology class' curriculum instructed students to pick from a gallery of photos labeled apes, monkeys and lemurs. Included in the second row is a photo of former President Barack Obama.


FOX 2 said it obtained a photo of the school assignment, which was made by a teacher, from someone who was appalled at the racist messaging.


According to its website, The Roeper School, is a private, independent preschool through 12th grade school for gifted students. It says its mission it “Educating and inspiring gifted students to think as individuals and to engage as a community with compassion for each other and the world. Diversity, inclusion, equity and justice are not standalone concepts that pay lip service to current trends in contemporary culture. Rather these values are integral to everything we do at and for the school.”


The worksheet was from a “highly regarded university website,” according to a letter sent to parents.


According to Deadline Detroit, the source of the material is Duke University. Roeper's black-and-white version was printed or photocopied from Page 12 of this "Introduction to Primates" course plan "intended to increase motivation for learning."


The school's letter to parents also said the teacher was taking responsibility for not properly vetting the material. There is no mention in the letter if the teacher faced administrative action although some published reports said the teacher was placed on leave.


“Many of you may be aware of a very upsetting lesson taught last week during an upper school biology class,” wrote head of school David H. Feldman in his letter to parents. “A member of our faculty shared a worksheet from a program posted on a highly regarded university website on evolutionary anthropology. The choice to use this piece of the curriculum was completely inconsistent with our school's philosophy and mission. While the teacher has taken responsibility and admits the mistake of not properly vetting the resource, we know that is not enough. On behalf of Roeper School's leadership, I would like to acknowledge the disturbing racial offense contained in this worksheet and sincerely regret its use and the harm it has caused. And our adults will continue to model how to listen when a community member hurt, apologize when necessary, and take action to make sure it does not happen again.”


Classes for students were reportedly cancelled on Thursday and local police were stationed at the school following online threats that were made.


Through a spokesperson, the school provided a written response to calls and emails: “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.”


State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Royal Oak, Troy) and State Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township), sent out a joint statement denouncing racism in the lesson. “Today, we learned that the racist materials presented in a classroom at Roeper came from a lesson plan produced by Duke University. This incident is an ugly reminder that racism and damaging racist tropes are still very present today, even among prestigious institutions. As a community and a country, we should be far beyond such commonplace racist, ignorant tropes being used in our schools. Sadly, and disturbingly, we are not. We must all be vigilant in calling out racism, condemning it, and ultimately – resolving to do better. Racism has no place in the classroom and no place in our community.”

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