Haverhill principal apologizes after class assignment on President Trump and fascism

Assignment asks students whether or not fascist traits apply to President Trump

HAVERHILL, Mass. — A local high school principal is apologizing after a class assignment that compared President Trump to fascist leaders.

Hours later, students and parents expressed support for the teacher who gave his class that assignment.

"As a student, I can affirm that Mr. Ashworth teaches each and every one of his students to think for themselves and to think deeply," said Angelina Parolisi.

Content Continues Below

The assignment, given last weekend by a World History teacher at the high school, asked students to cite whether the characteristics of a fascist leader applied to the president.

Several people took to social media to complain that the project encouraged students to label Trump as a fascist.

“I have an older child that had the same teacher a couple of years ago. He did not receive the assignment: Why or Why not is Barack Obama a fascist?” one parent said in a Facebook post.

But other parents said they support the assignment.

"I see an assignment that asks tough questions and encourages children to think for themselves," said parent Helen Zbitnoff.

In an email sent to parents, Principal Glen Burns apologized to anyone who viewed the assignment as biased against the president. He said those concerns are taken seriously.

Burns wrote the assignment was "developed to assess scholars’ ability to apply correctly" the 14 characteristics of a fascist leader. At the time, "it was believed scholars would be highly interested and engaged in debating what, if any of these, characteristics Donald Trump exhibited," he wrote.

"Upon reflecting with a team from the History Department on the assignment, 'Some People Claim that Donald Trump is a Fascist: Time to check it Out!' it was evident to us that the prompt may have skewed the debate or provided the perception that we were looking for scholars to prove Donald Trump was a fascist," Burns wrote. "This was not the intention of the assignment and we apologize to those that felt that was the experience we were trying to create. Our team discussed at length how to provide a more balanced prompt that could enrich this topic and discussion."

Spencer Zbitnoff, a ninth-grader who completed the assignment, said the whole thing is being blown out of proportion.

"The goal I think was to show students signs of fascism, why it can be dangerous and how you can see it in a person. And I think this was a great idea, definitely some things could have been done differently, but overall I think it was a fantastic, interesting way, interesting twist on research," he said.

The assignment and community reaction were discussed during a School Committee meeting on Thursday night.