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School District Shuts Down after Islamic Calligraphy Lesson Angers Parents

The Short of It

After a teacher at a Virginia school handed out a homework assignment on an Islamic statement of faith written in Arabic calligraphy, there was such an angry backlash that officials were prompted to close schools as a safety precaution.

The Lowdown

It seems like parents objecting to subject matters being taught in the classroom have been all over the news lately. First, we had parents challenging a school after their kids were asked to create an ISIS propaganda poster. Then, we had a dad taking issue with a homework assignment that centered around the cocaine trade. Now, we've got a case where every single school in a Virginia county was shut down after students in a high school world geography class were asked to copy an Islamic statement in Arabic calligraphy.

"While there has been no specific threat of harm to students, schools and school offices will be closed Friday," officials for Augusta County Schools said. Extracurricular activities were also shut down on Thursday afternoon.

The worksheet was apparently intended to give students "an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy." It read: "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 calligraphy in question translated to: "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah."

Angry calls and emails flooded the school after students brought the assignment home. Some parents called for the firing of teacher Cheryl Laporte, who told The News Leader that she took the assignment from a standard workbook on world religion.

"The school division began receiving voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area," said school officials, who added that they were concerned about the "tone and content" of the messages.

After officers were sent out to monitor communications, all the schools in the county were eventually shut down.

The Upshot

In addition to closing schools, the district reacted by removing the shahada from world religion instruction and issued a statement saying no one was trying to convert anyone to any religion.

"Neither of these lessons, nor any other lessons 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," Augusta County Schools official Eric Bond said in a statement to CNN affiliate WHSV.

Meanwhile, former students of Laporte's have taken to Facebook to defend her, forming a Support Laporte group on Facebook, which has more than 2,000 members.

"Ms. LaPorte, KUDOS to you," wrote one member. "It is truly a shame that you have to endure such ignorant backlash. Just know that many people around the USA is in support of you."

What do you think?

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