Arabic Calligraphy Lesson in High School Class Leads to Shutdown of Virginia School District

Tuesday, December 22, 2015
(photo: YouTube)

A lesson in world religions that included calligraphy resulted in officials closing all schools in Augusta County, Virginia, ahead of the district’s winter break.


As part of a world geography class at Riverheads High School, teacher Cheryl LaPorte had students practice calligraphy by writing a Muslim statement of faith, the shahada, according to The News Leader. The assignment was from a workbook, “World Religions,” and was not developed by LaPorte. The students were not asked to recite or translate the shahada, which in English reads: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Students will be asked to complete a similar assignment in Mandarin during their study of China.


Some of LaPorte’s students refused to complete the assignment and parents began to flood the school and school district with complaints when they learned of the lesson, prompting officials to begin the winter break earlier than planned.


Virginia school officials said the lesson was in line with the state’s “Standards of Learning and the requirements for content instruction on world monotheistic religions.”


Parent Kimberly Herndon, who organized a forum on the issue, told those in attendance that the assignment amounted to “indoctrination” and that it violated the students’ right of religious freedom.


“She gave up the Lord’s time,” Herndon said, of LaPorte’s lessons on religions. “She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed.”


Not all members of the community were as quick to condemn LaPorte. A Facebook page supporting the teacher had more than 2,000 members. “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,” Grace Zimmerman, a former student of LaPorte’s, posted, according to The News Leader.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Islamic Faith Statement Outrages County Parents (by Megan Williams, News Leader)

High School Teacher’s Lesson in Arabic Calligraphy Prompts Closure of Entire School District (by Judd Legum, ThinkProgress)

Support for Riverheads Teacher and Islam Lesson (by Megan Williams, News Leader)

Anti-Muslim Rhetoric, Once Used Only by Far-Right, Has Now Gone Mainstream Republican (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

14-Year-Old Builds a Clock, Brings it School, Gets Arrested … Then on to the White House (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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