Schools Shut Down After Controversial Calligraphy Assignment

A teacher in central Virginia is under fire after an assignment that required her students to copy an Islamic statement of faith in calligraphy.

The Dec. 11 lesson, which included copying text reading, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah,” was part of a world geography unit on Islam, according to a Yahoo! Parenting article.

Some of the ninth-grade students refused to participate, Yahoo reports, and a group of about 100 outraged parents from the high school later met at a church to discuss their concerns.

School officials soon began receiving a flood of phone calls about the situation and the story made national headlines. A week later, as feedback apparently increased, district officials decided to shut down all schools for the day as a security measure.

“‘The communications have significantly increased in volume (Thursday), and based on concerns regarding the tone and content of those communications, Sheriff (Randall) Fisher and Dr. Bond mutually decided schools and school offices will be closed,” the district said in a statement, according to a DailyMail article.

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Augusta County School Board President Eric Bond said that the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” after talking with police and that there was no specific threat to students, DailyMail reports.

While some parents are calling for the teacher to be fired, reports say the educator was simply using an existing lesson from a teacher workbook and that the assignment was district-approved. The students weren’t required to translate the statement or read it aloud, and the assignment simply noted that copying the text “should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.”

According to the Yahoo! Parenting article, the district will instead use a non-religious phrase in the Arabic calligraphy lesson in the future.

Some readers commenting on articles about the situation say parents are overreacting, while others suggest pulling kids out of public school altogether.

“Those poor little kids probably don’t have a clue that they are being indoctrinated,” user Patricia wrote, in part, on the Yahoo! Parenting story. “I hope the parents of these kids pull their kids out of this school. Wake up Christians!!!”

Other commenters wondered why the American Civil Liberties Union wasn’t getting involved.

“If a public school teacher asked kids to write the Ave Maria in old school script, people would lose their minds and the ACLU would burn the place down,” one reader, Rob, wrote.

But not everyone sees a problem. Another user, Alesha, wrote that it’s “sad to see parents be so hateful and paranoid to behave like this.”

“This is absolutely ridiculous. The teacher did nothing wrong,” she wrote. “I am a devout Christian and I see nothing wrong with educating our children on other cultures. Especially Islam considering the tension and political climate of the world today.”

Though some parents will undoubtedly take issue with any teaching on religion, having students use a non-religious phrase for practicing Arabic calligraphy seems like a common sense decision that probably should have been considered in the first place.

The situation has similarities to an incident earlier this year when a 12-year-old student was corrected by her teacher for answering that the existence of God is both a fact and an opinion. The question probably shouldn’t have been asked in the first place, just like this specific phrase probably wasn’t the best option for students to copy. When religion is discussed in the public school setting, is it really any surprise that someone will be offended?

Do you think the district handled the calligraphy lesson situation appropriately? Should the assignment have been allowed in the first place? Tell us in the comments.

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