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Assignment that depicts Barack Obama next to monkeys prompts school to place teacher on leave

The teacher at The Roeper School in Birmingham, Michigan, asked students in an assignment that showed the former president: “Which of the following are primates?”
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An assignment depicting Barack Obama, the nation's first Black president, next to monkeys and other animals prompted a private school in Michigan to place a teacher on leave.

The incident occurred at The Roeper School, which advertises itself as a school for gifted students from throughout the region.

The school has campuses in Bloomfield Hills, which is about 25 miles northwest of Detroit, and another in nearby Birmingham. The teacher works at the Birmingham campus, the school said Friday in a statement to NBC News.

NBC affiliate WDIV of Detroit reported the teacher, who was not named, asked students in an assignment: “Which of the following are primates?"

The evolution schoolwork depicted Obama alongside several animals including monkeys.

“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 school said in the statement.

Obama's victories in 2008 and 2012 are considered historic moments reflecting the country’s racial progress.

The school was trying to determine the teacher’s intent with the assignment.

Carolyn Lett is the director of diversity for the school. Lett told WDIV she spoke to the teacher.

“When I saw it, I couldn’t believe it,” Lett said, explaining she was trying to understand if the teacher depicted Obama next to monkeys and animals on purpose. “But right away I had a reaction like, ‘It’s so wrong, I can’t understand it.’”

Lett added of the teacher: “She had her biology hat on but didn’t realize the sensitivity and awareness she should have had culturally.”

The offensive images hurt students, Lett said.

The school was closed on Thursday and police were stationed outside because of threats made online, WDIV reported.

The school’s website said it was founded in 1941 and was designated a school for gifted children in 1956. The coed school serves students of diverse socioeconomic, ethnic and racial backgrounds.

The school says 31 percent of students and faculty are people of color. Its students come from dozens of metro Detroit communities, and 41 percent of its families receive tuition assistance.