An entire school district in Virginia is closed Friday, after the backlash against an assignment which forced students to write the shahada, the Muslim oath that declares “There is no God but Allah. Mohammed is the messenger of Allah.”
This controversial lesson came from a geography class, whose unit on world religions at Riverheads High near Staunton required students to write the Islamic oath in Arabic calligraphy, without telling them what they were writing. As the Staunton News-Leader describes it:
During a world geography lesson on Friday about world religions, including Islam, teacher Cheryl LaPorte had students complete an assignment that involved practicing calligraphy and writing a Muslim statement of faith, also known as the shahada, which translates as: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Students were also reportedly shown copies of the Quran.
Recitation of the shahada is a fundamental step in conversion to Islam.
Students were not asked to translate the statement or to recite it. The lesson was found to be in line with Virginia Standards of Learning for the study of monotheistic world religions.
However, when a few students refused to complete the assignment the word got out to the parent community. Parents are “outraged” over LaPorte’s lessons and say they will not have their students complete world geography in her class.
Kimberly Herndon, an Augusta County parent who organized the event, began the discussion and said that by having students write “indoctrination,” LaPorte took away the students’ right of religious freedom.
“That’s why we need to join together,” Herndon said. “If my truth can not be spoken in schools, I don’t want false doctrine spoken in schools. That’s what keeps it even across the board.”
Another report from local NBC News affiliate WVIR quotes one student saying the teacher told them “the paper meant faith, so we didn’t think anything of it,” but parents had a “bad feeling” when they saw the Arabic calligraphy, obtaining a translation later.
“These children were deceived when they were told it was calligraphy, this is not calligraphy, this is a language,” charged parent Kimberly Herndon.
Later in the News Leader article, we learn that the lesson plan also gave students the “opportunity” to “try on a scarf as a part of an interactive lesson about the Islamic concept of modest dress.”
WVIR quotes a student describing how the teacher pushed them into donning the headscarf: “When they asked me to dress up, I said no and the aide said okay, well the teacher pushed and pushed and pushed so I did it, and when she took a picture, I asked for it not to be in the yearbook and she said it was, so that’s when my parents called the school.”
These students deserve high marks for figuring out what was really going on, and jumping one move ahead of their teacher.
The whole thing is incredibly insidious… or else we’re talking about an absurdly unqualified “teacher” running a religious history class without understanding the significance of the shahada, or why non-Muslim students and parents might be upset about being secretly forced to write it down.
Can anyone come up with an example of Muslim students being forced to write Christian phrases in Latin, or Jewish phrases in the Hebrew alphabet, by one of these open-minded teachers? One county resident who worked as a teacher told the News Leader that if she had assigned her English students to copy down Bible passages in an assignment, she would have been fired.
“The students were presented with the statement to demonstrate the complex artistry of the written language used in the Middle East, and were asked to attempt to copy it in order to give the students an idea of the artistic complexity of the calligraphy,” said a press release from Augusta County Superintendent Eric Bond, in defense of the lesson plan, adding that students were not asked to “translate it, recite it, or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief.”
The pushback from parents was strong, and there was a national outcry when the story broke, but now the district of 100,000 students has been completely shut down due to what administrators described as an “abundance of caution” about the “tone and content of communications” it has received. The district’s statement reads, in full:
Following parental objections to the World Geography curriculum and ensuing related media coverage, the school division began receiving voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area. 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. The communications have significantly increased in volume today and based on concerns regarding the tone and content of those communications, Sheriff Fisher and Dr. Bond mutually decided schools and school offices will be closed on Friday, December 18, 2015.
While there has been no specific threat of harm to students, schools and school offices will be closed Friday, December 18, 2015. All extra-curricular activities are likewise cancelled for tonight, Thursday, December 17, through the weekend. We regret having to take this action, but we are doing so based on the recommendations of law enforcement and the Augusta County School Board out of an abundance of caution.
Finally, the Augusta County School Board and Dr. Bond appreciate parents bringing concerns directly to our attention, and a constructive and respectful dialogue between school and community is always welcome. As we have emphasized, no lesson was designed to promote a religious viewpoint or change any student’s religious belief. Although students will continue to learn about world religions as required by the state Board of Education and the Commonwealth’s Standards of Learning, a different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future.
Again, how is it possible that a fully-qualified teacher randomly chose the Islamic statement of faith, instead of countless “different, non-religious samples of Arabic calligraphy” that could have been used, without a clue that students would object? Was this whole affair a political stunt designed to produce the outraged reaction, leading to the ostentatious closing of the entire district over the mere “tone” of protests, without any specific threat whatsoever?
The entire district was just turned into a “safe space” and sealed off because of “microaggressions.” A bad lesson is still being taught in Augusta County.