Did a Pennsylvania Teacher Assign Math Homework That Referred to Sexual Assault?

Students at Pennridge High School were asked to solve algebra formulas using vignettes from the difficult early life of Maya Angelou; Internet outrage ensued.

  • Published 6 February 2018


A teacher assigned math homework that included references to sexual assault and prostitution.


In January 2017, a high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia became the subject of international headlines after a math teacher gave students a homework assignment that made references to sexual assault and prostitution. 

The algebra assignment required students to solve an equation in order to fill in the blanks in a series of multiple questions. Some of the questions related to the life of the poet Maya Angelou, as outlined in her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The subject matter in two of the questions, taken well out of context, was what caused the controversy: 

3. y = x + 2.
3x + 6y = 12

Angelou was sexually abused by her mother’s __________ at age 8, which shaped her career choices and motivation for writing. 

a. (0, 2) boyfriend
b. (4, 6) brother
c. (-3, -1) father

5. x = y – 1
y = -4x + 21

Trying to support her son as a single mother, she worked as a pimp, prostitute and ___________.

a. (-3, -2) bookie
b. (9, 10) drug dealer
c. (4, 5) Night Club Dancer.


The math assignment came to light through the Twitter account @pennridgereform, and who tweeted out what appears to be a Snapchat image of the test on 12 January 2017:

When the content of the test went public, some parents (perhaps unaware of the literary source of the questions) complained to school authorities, who quickly apologized. Pennridge School District superintendent Jacqueline Rattigan said in a statement:

We have received a number of complaints from parents and members of the community regarding a recent high school math 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.

We apologize to anyone who was offended by the content of the assignment and have taken steps to avoid such occurrences in the future.

That didn’t stop the tide of outrage, however; the story quickly became national and international news and periodically recurs on social media.

A similar algebra assignment caused controversy in November 2015, when it was given to students at Lexington Middle School in Fort Myers, Florida. 

Since 1994
A Word to Our Loyal Readers

Support Snopes and make a difference for readers everywhere.

  • David Mikkelson
  • Doreen Marchionni
  • David Emery
  • Bond Huberman
  • Jordan Liles
  • Alex Kasprak
  • Dan Evon
  • Dan MacGuill
  • Bethania Palma
  • Liz Donaldson
  • Vinny Green
  • Ryan Miller
  • Chris Reilly
  • Chad Ort
  • Elyssa Young

Most Snopes assignments begin when readers ask us, “Is this true?” Those tips launch our fact-checkers on sprints across a vast range of political, scientific, legal, historical, and visual information. We investigate as thoroughly and quickly as possible and relay what we learn. Then another question arrives, and the race starts again.

We do this work every day at no cost to you, but it is far from free to produce, and we cannot afford to slow down. To ensure Snopes endures — and grows to serve more readers — we need a different kind of tip: We need your financial support.

Support Snopes so we continue to pursue the facts — for you and anyone searching for answers.

Team Snopes