Augusta County public schools cancelled activities this afternoon and classes tomorrow following public and parental reactions to a class assignment that involved students writing “There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” in calligraphy class.
The statement is known as the shahada, the Muslim statement of faith.
There was no specific threat of harm to students, so why are administrators closing the school district? Intimidation, perhaps?
The school posted the following message on its website:
“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. While there has been no specific threat of harm to students, schools and school offices will be closed Friday, December 18, 2015. All extra-curricular activities are likewise cancelled for tonight, Thursday, December 17, through the weekend. We regret having to take this action, but we are doing so based on the recommendations of law enforcement and the Augusta County School Board out of an abundance of caution.
“Finally, the Augusta County School Board and Dr. Bond appreciate parents bringing concerns directly to our attention, and a constructive and respectful dialogue between school and community is always welcome. As we have emphasized, no lesson was designed to promote a religious viewpoint or change any student’s religious belief. 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.”
TV station WHSV called Augusta County School Board Chairman Nicholas Collins, who said he had no information to release about the closures.
Parents complained to the media that the students were denied a Bible in class and some female students were encouraged to wear a hijab to learn about the “modest dress adopted by many in the Islamic faith and were invited to try on a scarf as a part of an interactive lesson about the Islamic concept of modest dress.”