Furor over Arabic assignment leads Virginia school district to close Friday

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After Outrage Over Curriculum Using Muslim Statement of Faith, School District Shuts Down Friday Classes, Weekend Activities.

A Virginia school system has decided to close schools Friday after a high school geography assignment on world religions led to allegations of Islamic indoctrination and a slew of angry emails and phone calls. Schools in Augusta County will be closed Friday after students were given a calligraphy assignment that directed them to copy the Arabic for “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” The school district said they were closing schools after parents objected to the World Geography curriculum, which led to media coverage, which led to “phone calls and electronic mail” that raised concerns because of their “tone and content.” The district’s statement said there was “no specific threat of harm to students” but they were closing downs schools “on the recommendations of law enforcement and the Augusta County School Board out of an abundance of caution.” As to the lesson itself, the district said the assignment was not “designed to promote a religious viewpoint or change any student’s religious belief.” But because of concern, the district said future world religion assignments would use “a different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy.” Riverheads High School social studies teacher Cheryl LaPorte administered the lesson Dec. 11 while teaching about world religions, according to the News Leader. The phrase was a statement of Islamic faith but the students were “not asked to translate the statement or to recite it.” Rather, the purpose of the exercise was to give students an “idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.” Some students refused to complete the assignments and several parents protested at a meeting earlier this week. As a result of those communications, the Sheriff’s Office and the school division coordinated to increase police presence at Augusta County schools and to monitor those communications.

Superintendent Eric Bond did not respond to questions about why he canceled school given the lack of a specific threat, or about whether he considered the original assignment improper. An Augusta County Sheriff’s dispatcher said that members of her department had discussed the situation with school officials, but said she did not have additional information. Bond appreciate parents bringing concerns directly to our attention, and a constructive and respectful dialogue between school and community is always welcome.

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