An entire school district in Virginia with thousands of students has shut down Friday over the backlash to a lesson that involved students writing the Islamic profession of faith.
Cheryl LaPorte, a geography teacher at Riverheads High School in Staunton, was covering the subject of world religions last week when she distributed a homework handout intended to educate students about Islam. Part of the assignment (which LaPorte didn’t create herself) dealt with calligraphy, a popular art in the Islamic world because the faith’s strict ban on idolatry discourages portrayals of humans or animals. To illustrate the artistic complexity of calligraphy, students were asked to try copying the shahada, the Islamic profession of faith which, in Arabic, means “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” (RELATED: VA High School Lesson: There Is No God But Allah)
A simple enough task, but some parents in the district were outraged, seeing it as a religious imposition on their children.
“I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian,” parent Kimberly Herndon complained to local news affiliate WHSV.
Herndon and other angry parents flooded the school with angry calls and emails, and now the district has reacted by canceling Friday classes, not just at Riverheads, but at all 21 schools in Augusta County. Administrators blamed the “tone and content” of those complaining, but also acknowledged no specific threats had been made. They said the decision to cancel was made at the suggestion of local police, in response to a significant surge in hostile communications Thursday.
“As we have emphasized, no lesson was designed to promote a religious viewpoint or change any student’s religious belief,” the district’s statement said. “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.”
Lessons involving Islam have occasionally caused friction in American schools. In Tennessee, for instance, some parents have complained that middle school students spend an inordinate amount of time learning about the tenets of Islam in class.