Schools Shut Down in Augusta County, Virginia

 

A standard school lesson designed to teach students about major religions around the world, caused a huge backlash from parents in a Virginia school. After a teacher handed out a homework assignment that included students learning Arabic calligraphy, the school was inundated with angry calls and emails that prompted school officials to close every single county school on Friday, December 18th. 

The world geography class at Riverbeds High School in Staunton, Virgina includes such assignments as copying religious calligraphy from Islam. The assignment intended to give students an understanding of the complexity of Islamic calligraphy, but the backlash of parents, some of which considered this an attempt to convert their children to Islam, has brought about the removal of the religious calligraphy. The county school system has decided to replace the original calligraphy with a non-religious sample. 

This move has not satisfied all the opposing parents. Nearly 24,000 like minded people gathered to air their grievances at Good Will Ministries. Meanwhile, former students have formed a group on Facebook to discuss and defend the teacher. “I’m against anyone getting steamrolled by convoluted logic and I’m very pleased to see that there is so many people around me that feel the same way,” a supporter wrote.

Angry parents have flooded the district with calls and emails concerning the safety at the schools. In response, Augusta County issued a letter informing parents that safety procedures were in place and all students and faculty were following safety precautions.  

Why were some parents concerned about the safety of their children due to this homework assignment is a mystery, as there was no specific threat of harm to students, schools or school offices. Some have taken to posting on Facebook declaring that there is only one God and that is Jesus. Although public schools are secular, and no religion is practice on campuses around the country, parents have become heated about any study of Islamic religion. 

Students were never asked to translate the calligraphy nor was there any attempt to indoctrinate any student into the Islamic religion. This assignment was simply a means to introduce the complexity of Arabic calligraphy as stated on the sheet issued to the students, “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.” 

The teacher, Cheryl La Porte, did not design the assignment given to the students. The assignment came from a standard workbook on world religions. She has receive an outpouring of support from the community, former students and parents that plan to support her at the Augusta County School Board meeting on January 7th, 2016.