Schools in Virginia's Augusta County were closed Friday following outrage over a homework assignment that was part of Riverheads High School's world religion unit. Can you guess which religion the students were studying?
The anger stemmed from a single assignment, which asked students to copy a central Muslim statement. CNN explains:
When the world geography class at Riverheads High School in Staunton rolled around to the subject of major world religions, homework on Islam asked students to copy religious calligraphy. It read: "Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.
According to the News Leader, the assignment was pulled by teacher Cheryl LaPorte from a workbook on "World Religions."
Tension has been brewing in Augusta County all week. The assignment was given to students last Friday, and the Leader explains that it was brought to parents' attention after a few students refused to complete it. On Tuesday, roughly 100 people attended a forum to express their anger. The forum was held at a church. The Leader offers more detail:
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." Herndon accused LaPorte of indoctrinating children into the Islamic faith and she hasn't sent her son back since the incident occurred.
Others at the form defended the veteran teacher, and Augusta County Superintendent Eric Bond told the Leader that "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." He clarified that the homework was not an attempt to convert students:
Neither these lessons, nor any other lesson in the world geography course, are an attempt at indoctrination to Islam or any other religion, or a request for students to renounce their own faith or profess any belief. Each of the lessons attempts objectively to present world religions in a way that is interesting and interactive for students.
Ultimately, however, the schools were shut on Friday because of the frightening reaction to the assignment. In a statement, the Augusta County Public Schools explained:
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.
The statement added that no specific threats were made, and that this assignment won't be given moving forward.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.