The school district has since apologized.
Pennridge High School students were asked: “Angelou was sexually abused by her mother’s _____ at age 8, which shaped her career choices and motivation for writing.” Using the math formula given, they had to choose either “boyfriend, brother or father” as the answer.
The school district has since apologized for the incident after receiving several complaints.
“We apologize to anyone who was offended by the content of the assignment and have taken steps to avoid such occurrences in the future,” Pennridge School District superintendent Dr. Jacqueline Rattigan said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.
She said the school district had received a number of complaints from parents and community members about the homework assignment “which contained adult content without a proper context.”
“The homework worksheet in question was downloaded from a website that allows teachers around the world to share educational resources. It is not part of our approved curriculum,” Rattigan said in her statement.
BuzzFeed News found the question in a “Maya Angelou Person Puzzle” worksheet available to download from two websites: NextLesson and Teachers Pay Teachers. Pennridge High School did not say which website the assignment was downloaded from.
Clint Clark, a high school teacher who created the Maya Angelou “Person Puzzle” worksheet that includes the sexual assault question, told BuzzFeed News that he wanted “to honor [Angelou’s] desire to advocate for the voiceless victims of abuse.”
Clark said that he shares resources from his own classroom on TeachersPayTeachers — which claims to be “the first and largest open marketplace where teachers share, sell, and buy original educational resources.”
“This is not the first time I have had concerned parents or teachers on this particular lesson,” Clark said, adding that he had taught many students who were victims of sexual abuse.
“I wrestled with whether to include her experience with sexual abuse, but eventually came to the conclusion that it was integral because Angelou herself found it integral,” he said, citing her writing about being a rape survivor.
Angelou was sexually assaulted by her mother's boyfriend at the age of eight.
Clint said he wanted to “show that other kids who have gone through difficult experiences are not alone.”
“I wanted them to know they could live to perhaps be the greatest poet in American history.”
He said that he provided a cautionary message with his online resources and that he trusted teachers to use their discretion while selecting an assignment. “I certainly paired the biography with what I believed to be an age-appropriate math topic (10th-11th grade),” he said.
However, Clint said that he was now “struggling to determine whether the value I perceive in its inclusion is worth the possible costs.”
He said he would consider approaching the question in different ways.
“I'm imagining the faces of dozens of students and how best to share this important story so that it may cause less waves in classrooms that are not my own,” he said.
NextLesson told BuzzFeed News that they were not aware of any reports that this content had caused controversy in classrooms.
“However, we appreciate you bringing this to our attention and have reflected on this concern with our team,” NextLesson said in a statement. “In order to help teachers determine what is appropriate for their classroom, we will make sure to add clear labels to any content containing sensitive material.”