GREENVILLE, Va. — School district officials in a Virginia county decided to close schools on Friday after its office was flooded with phone calls and email from those who expressed concern about a recent high school calligraphy assignment that had students write “There is no god but Allah” in Arabic.
As previously reported, the assignment was issued in teacher Cheryl LaPorte’s world history class at Riverheads High School in Greenville, and was obtained from a workbook called “World Religions.”
The lesson stated, “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 reports, female students were also invited to try on a scarf in learning about Islamic dress.
Mother Kimberly Herndon told local television station WHSV that she pulled her son out of school after he came home with the assignment.
“I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian,” she said. “And I am going to stand for Christ.”
Herndon was a part of a group that gathered Tuesday night at Good News Ministries in Staunton to express their concern. She also took to Facebook to speak against the assignment.
But a group was also formed on Facebook in support of LaPorte, gathering over 2,000 members as of press time.
Augusta County School Superintendent Dr. Eric Bond said that the lesson was within the curriculum, and was acceptable because it was a part of learning about Middle East culture and its religions.
“The statement presented as an example of the calligraphy was not translated for students, nor were students asked to translate it, recite it or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief,” he outlined. “They were simply asked to attempt to artistically render written Arabic in order to understand its artistic complexity.”
However, as calls and email flooded the offices of the Augusta County School Board throughout this week, district officials decided to end the week early and close all schools within the county on Friday.
According to the Associated Press, the messages received allegedly “posed a risk of harm to school officials” and threatened protests over the matter. Security was subsequently assigned to the teacher, as well as Bond and other board officials.
The district says that the controversial assignment will not be used again.
“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,” Doug Shifflett, Augusta County’s assistant superintendent for administration, said in a statement.