Schools were closed in Augusta County, Virginia on Friday after one parent cried “Muslim indoctrination” over a 9th grade history assignment. When Kimberly Herndon learned that her son who attends Rivershead High School would be copying the Islamic phrase known as the Shahada as part of an exercise to demonstrate the “artistic complexity of [Arabic] calligraphy,” she vehemently voiced her outrage both to the school as well as on Facebook. Herndon’s post, which is no longer visible on Facebook, read that the assignment was a form of “Muslim indoctrination taking place here in an Augusta county school.”
Claiming that the assignment violated her parental rights as well has her religious beliefs and that teacher Cherly LaPorte should be fired for “violating children’s religious beliefs,” other parents soon filed similar claims, and Augusta Country administrators closed schools on Friday due to the backlash. “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,” said Herndon to WTVR.
A press release from the school read:
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.
Although administrators admitted that there were “no specific threats of harm to the students,” they erred on the side of caution, and all extra-curricular activities were also canceled.
The phrase that has Augusta County parents up in arms is the Shahada prayer, which reads, “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” and is part of a standard assignment out of the workbook World Religions. In response to the commotion, the Virginia Department of Education and Augusta County Superintendent Eric Bond reviewed the materials, and found them to be in line with state standards. Furthermore, other parents came out in support of LaPorte, who will not be be fired.
“I keep seeing the word ‘indoctrination’ being thrown around and, as an RHS alumna, I take great offense to it,” said community member Kari Watson. “I love this school, and Mrs. LaPorte is a wonderful teacher. It is outrageous to believe she is trying to convert anyone to Islam. Please, choose your media outlets wisely and be aware of what you’re spreading.”
Sadly this fear of indoctrination is part of a much larger trend occurring in schools across the United States. Last week, a parent in Eau Claire, Michigan, accused a local school of “preaching Islam” when the children’s picture book Nasreen’s Secret School was adopted as part of the district’s curriculum. We have also seen the same backlash against Marjane Sartrapi’s Persepolis.
In light of the situation, the Board of Education has decided to choose a different phrase for the calligraphy assignment. “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,” the district noted in a statement.
Despite the support LaPorte has received and administrators’ defense of the materials, Herndon has threatened to take legal action. CBLDF will continue to follow the story.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!