Classes were cancelled recently at Riverheads High School in Staunton, Virginia, near Charlottesville, after school officials received a multitude of complaints about a controversial piece of curriculum being taught to ninth-graders learning calligraphy.
According to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, students taking the calligraphy class were instructed to write out a portion of Arabic text that, translated into English, stated, “There is no God but Allah,” a common creed of Islam that declares one’s allegiance to the religion.
Citing forced indoctrination and departure from separation of church and state, parents began calling school administrators to complain about the class, which they say subjected their children to offensive material that never should have been allowed at the school.
The class was reportedly a world geography class taught by Cheryl LaPorte, meant to introduce students to a variety of subject matter from different countries, cultures and religions. But had the calligraphy class instructed students to write out, say, “Jesus Christ is Lord” on paper instead, it would most assuredly have been scrapped by the district as offensive.
The statement “There is no God but Allah” isn’t just a harmless part of religious text – it’s a fundamental part of the Muslim statement of faith. And instructing students to write it represents forced religious conversion, say some; hence the uproar.
These same students were also shown copies of the Koran, which is Islam’s highest holy text, and female students were instructed to try on scarfs, a.k.a. a hijab, which they were told would give them a better understanding of Islam’s version of “modest dress.”
“Recitation of the shahada in public is the first formal step in conversion to Islam,” explains the Daily Mail, referring to the formal name of the controversial text in question. “However, according to school officials, the ninth-graders were not asked to translate the statement or read it aloud.”
Rather than apologize to parents and trying to explain whatever the school’s reasoning had been for introducing the curriculum, Augusta County School Board President Eric Bond instead turned the issue around and tried to vilify the parents.
According to the Daily Mail, Bond made the decision to close all schools within the district for a full day, “out of an abundance of caution,” insinuating that the messages he was receiving from parents were somehow threatening.
With support from local sheriff Randal Fisher, Bond told reporters that due to the “significantly increased” volume of communications he was receiving, as well as the “tone and content” of those communications, he had decided to simply close all schools.
This move, which admittedly was not due to any specific threat, was merely a power play to try to make concerned parents look like possible terrorists rather than outraged guardians of their own children.
Bond did say, however, that the curriculum would be changed from here on out, and that students would instead be instructed to write “non-religious” Arabic calligraphy, which should have been the case all along.
“When I saw the language, the Arabic language, immediately I had a bad feeling come over me,” a parent named Kimberly Herndon, a devout Christian, said to a local NBC news outlet. “She [LaPorte] gave up the Lord’s time. She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed.”
At a follow-up meeting attended by more than 100 people, former English teacher Debbie Ballow told attendees that had she instructed her students to copy a passage of the Bible in this manner, she would have been fired.
“I will not have my children 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 added.
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