Reacting to a public outcry over a Islamic-themed exercise in a high school world geography course, the Augusta County (Va.) district canceled classes Friday in all its schools.
The controversy stems from a world religions lesson in a geography class at Riverheads High School in Staunton, Va. An exercise called for students to practice calligraphy by writing a Muslim statement of faith, also known as the shahada, which translates as: "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."
After news reports discussed the class assignment, the district said it received "voluminous phone calls and electronic mail" locally and from outside the area that objected to the Islamic content in the lesson.
No specific threats were made, the district says, but "based on concerns regarding the tone and content of those communications, [officials] decided schools and school offices will be closed on Friday."
"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," the statement says.
The district also says that the assignment in question was not intended to promote a religious viewpoint, but added that the shahada would no longer be used in the assignment.
"Students will continue to learn about world religions as required by the state Board of Education and the Commonwealth’s Standards of Learning, [but] a different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future," the district says.
The Staunton News Leader reports that in response to those objecting to the lesson, many supporters of the teacher are speaking out on her behalf. As of Friday morning, more than 2,300 people "liked" a Facebook page created to support the teacher, Cheryl LaPorte.
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