Math problem about Sept. 11 attacks raises ire in Newburyport

Newburyport High School.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
Newburyport High School.

A teacher in Newburyport recently drew criticism for using the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as the basis for a math problem.

According to Boston 25 News, the word problem stated: “Flight 175, one of [the] 9/11 planes, was traveling at 586 miles per hour when it hit the World Trade Center. It had traveled a distance of 440 miles before impact. How many minutes was the plane in the air?”

Superintendent Susan L. Viccaro released an apologetic statement Oct. 31 in which she said she was aware of a teacher’s odd choice of wording for a math problem, which was given to students in an algebra class as a homework assignment.


“I was recently made aware of a homework assignment used by one of our high school teachers for her Algebra classes,” Viccaro said in the statement. “That assignment uses the background of the September 11, 2001 tragedy as part of a math problem, as well as the prompt for a writing exercise.”

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“As a community, the Newburyport Public Schools recognizes the importance of honoring our First responders and the brave men and women who lost their lives during this terrible act of terrorism. This assignment was not intended to be disrespectful to the thousands impacted by this horrible event. Rather this was an exercise of poor judgement by the educator who intended to use the historical event as a mechanism to engage students in a thoughtful discussion.”

In the statement, Viccaro went on to say that the school administration is reminding teachers to be sensitive when referencing the tragedies of Sept. 11 in the course of daily instruction.

“In the future, we will work with our educators to find more respectful and mindful ways to continue the important and valuable discussions that should take place around these significant events without diminishing or otherwise disregarding the respect and reverence that is due,” the statement read.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.