Massachusetts principal apologizes after assignment compares Trump to fascists

The principal at Haverhill High School apologized for a world history assignment.

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The principal at Haverhill High School apologized for a world history assignment.

A Massachusetts high school principal apologized after a class assignment compared President Donald Trump to fascist leaders.

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

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

The assignment, given last weekend by Ashworth, a world history teacher at the high school, asked students to cite whether 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 controversy 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.

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