The entire Augusta County, Virginia, school district will be closed Friday, a week after one teacher touched off controversy by issuing an assignment to students, during a block study of world religions, asking them to copy an example of Arabic calligraphy—the Islamic statement of faith, or shahada.
The assignment was given by Cheryl LaPorte, a longtime teacher at Augusta County Schools, in a World Geography class at Riverheads High School. 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. Students had learned about Christianity and Judaism, and will learn about Hinduism and Buddhism. This was the section on Islam.
In English, the shahada states, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” While recitation of the shahada is part of the conversion process to Islam, students were not asked to recite it, but simply to copy it. (Calligraphy is a major part of Islamic art and culture.) From the News Leader:
Initial reaction from Christian parents called for such extreme actions as having LaPorte fired for “violating children’s religious beliefs.” However, both the Virginia Department of Education and Superintendent Eric Bond have reviewed the material and found it both in line with state standards, as well as not in violation of students’ rights.
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.
Kimberly Herndon, an Augusta County parent who organized the event, said she didn’t want a false doctrine spoken in schools.
“She gave up the Lord’s time,” Herndon said of LaPorte. “She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed.”
“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. That’s what keeps it even across the board.”
Naturally, the story has whipped the conservative media into a froth. 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. There’s been no specific threat to students.
In the future, NBC29 reports, the school says it will use a non-religious Arabic phrase for the assignment. Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, hate crimes against Muslims have tripled in the past month.