Virginia Schools Close After Uproar Over Arabic Calligraphy Lesson

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 district closed all of its schools and offices after an outcry over a high school geography lesson that included an example of Arabic religious calligraphy. 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.” The controversy began earlier this week at Riverheads High School in Staunton, Virginia over a World Geography class assignment in which students copied a piece of Arabic text as part of a calligraphy lesson. In the course of learning about different regions around the world, the Staunton News Leader reports, students also study the regions’ culture, which includes its predominant religions.

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. Teacher Cheryl LaPonte gave students an assignment that involved practicing calligraphy and writing a Muslim statement of faith, also known as shahada. 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.

However, one outraged parent told The Schilling Show, “while the Quran was presented to students, the Bible was not.” The teacher reportedly declined to provide a Bible because all the students have either read or seen a Bible. According to News Leader, the local newspaper, recitation of the shahada is a “fundamental step in conversion to Islam.” Students were not asked to translate the statement or to recite it, and the exercise was within the Virginia Standards of Learning for the study of monotheistic world religions.

During a forum Tuesday night at the Good News Ministries church in Greenville, parents discussed the lesson and some expressed outrage over what they called indoctrination. “That’s why we need to join together,” Herndon told the News Leader. “If my truth can not be spoken in schools, I don’t want false doctrine spoken in schools. It was organized by Kimberly Herndon, a parent who has kept her nine-year-old son at home since ill-fated geography class. “I will not have my child sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian, and I’m going to stand behind Christ,” Herndon told WTVR.

On the sheriff’s recommendation, the school system decided to cancel Friday’s classes after coming under a deluge of calls and emails from outside the immediate community. Augusta County resident and former English teacher Debbie Ballew told News Leader that there is a double standard amongst public schools and the public. 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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