A routine act of assigning homework sparked a heated controversy in schools in Augusta County, Virginia, prompting officials to close all the schools in the county as a safety measure. The Augusta County Schools released a statement on the closing.
“While there has been no specific threat of harm to students, schools and school offices will be closed Friday, December 18, 2015.”
Cheryl LaPorte, a teacher at Riverheads High School in Staunton, asked her students to copy the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith, to understand the artistic complexity of calligraphy, as part of understanding world religions.
“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 Shahada translates into the following,
“There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah.”
When the students took their assignment home, there was a huge furor in many homes over the homework. They saw it as an attempt at indoctrinating and trying to convert the students to Islam.
Kimberly Herndon, a parent of a ninth-grader at Riverbeds spoke out on the assignment.
“There was no trying about it. The sheet she gave out was pure doctrine in its origin. I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian.”
LaPorte told the local newspaper, NewsLeader, that she had not designed the homework herself and that it was from a standard workbook and that her job is to get her students through Standards of Learning tests.
On Tuesday, around 24,000 parents and residents of the town gathered in the sanctuary of Good Will Ministries to voice their grievances, including those against the teacher. The county had already released a letter of reassurance regarding security to the parents, without the mention of the homework controversy.
But as the week progressed, the school district started receiving voluminous calls and emails from outside the area, the tones of which were worrisome. The sheriff deployed more officers to county schools and began monitoring communications. Then all the schools in the county shut down.
Around the same time a Facebook page was created by LaPorte’s students to support her. Former student Grace Zimmerman posted in the group, defending her teacher.
“As a community, it is up to us to defend a teacher who is not in the wrong and deserves our support as she supported a great number of us through our high school years.”
Kacey LaPorte Bunch, the teacher’s daughter, also posted.
“My mother wanted me to share the following message with you: ‘I have been humbled by the love and support I have received from so many wonderful people. Thank you all, and please know you put the HAPPY back in my holidays.’
Tuesday’s meeting was organized by Kim Herndon. Later she deleted the Facebook event she created for the forum on Thursday. She spoke on Tuesday about taking legal action, however, no civil action has been filed with Augusta County Circuit Court.
Eric Bond, the Division Superintendent, sent a message to parents on Friday afternoon on behalf of the school board.
“Neither these lessons, nor any other lesson in the world geography course, are an attempt at indoctrination to Islam or any other religion, or a request for students to renounce their own faith or profess any belief. Each of the lessons attempts objectively to present world religions in a way that is interesting and interactive for students.”
The instant outrage of the parents for a seemingly routine homework assignment was not surprising in the current U.S. climate. It reflects the sign of the current time, with high paranoia in the light of events at Paris and San Bernadino.
[Image via Facebook]