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Three teachers in New York put on leave after noose images displayed in classroom

"You have half the community saying, 'This is an atrocity,' and then you have another half defending it, saying, 'Oh, it was supposed to be a joke,'" the school board president said.

Three teachers at a middle school on Long Island, New York, have been placed on paid administrative leave after an image of a pair of nooses labeled "back to school necklaces" were displayed in a classroom, officials said.

The teachers have been “reassigned to home” with pay pending an investigation, according to Alfred T. Taylor, school board president of the Roosevelt Union Free School District.

All three teachers are white, he said.

The noose images were part of a larger collage that was in one of the classrooms at Roosevelt Middle School, which has a student body that is almost entirely black and Hispanic. The collage showed two nooses and also featured the words "ha" and "#yes."

The school district in the town of Roosevelt said it took "appropriate action" against the teachers for the display of the "racially offensive images" when it was made aware of the incident Thursday.

A photo displayed inside a classroom shows two nooses labeled "back to school necklaces" at Roosevelt Middle School in New York on Feb. 7, 2019.Courtesy of Arthur L. Mackey Jr.

Two of the teachers have been employed by the district for two to three years and one has taught there for about 20 years, Taylor told NBC News.

The three women could be fired for "conduct unbecoming of a teacher" and possibly lose their teaching licenses, he said.

It is unclear who made the collage or how long it was displayed in the classroom.

Taylor, who is African-American, said the incident is dividing the community because some people lack an understanding of the historic significance of a noose.

"When you have half the community saying, 'This is an atrocity,' and then you have another half defending it saying, 'Oh, it was supposed to be a joke,' that's an easy way for something to get lost in translation," he said.

"You have a generation of youth that is so desensitized to it that they don't understand the graphic nature of it even in seeing pictures. It doesn't move some of them," he said. "That could be disturbing because it's creating a communication gap between our communities."

Arthur Mackey Jr., chaplain of the Roosevelt Chamber of Commerce, is among the community leaders calling for the firing of the teachers, all three of whom he said are pictured in the collage.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen agreed that the teachers should be held to a higher standard and the image is "undoubtedly racist."

"A clear message needs to be sent that there is simply no place in our schools and in our society for this type of racist, hateful and insensitive imagery,” Gillen said.