Virginia Schools Closed Because Of World Religions Lesson

Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
Schools in Virginia's Augusta County have been closed because a teacher followed a lesson plan. (No, that's not an exaggeration.)

A world religions teacher at Riverheads High School wanted to teach her students about the intricacies of Arabic calligraphy. She instructed the students to trace the Islamic declaration of faith, to give them a sense of how difficult calligraphy is.

Cheryl LaPorte, the teacher in question, took the assignment from the teacher workbook World Religions. LaPorte didn't ask the students to recite or translate the statement, as the assignment was focused on calligraphy. But many students weren't happy with the assignment. Not only did they refuse to attempt the calligraphy, they told their parents. (The statement translates to "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.)

The reaction was so disproportionate to the lesson that Augusta County closed all of its public schools on Friday, citing "security concerns." Superintendent Eric Bond said in a statement that emails parents sent the school board were alarming in "tone and content," which prompted the schools' closure. Officials didn't specify what threats parents had made toward the school board.

Some parents have called for LaPorte to be fired, while alumni of the school have expressed support for LaPorte and the lesson plan. The Virginia Department of Education has also clarified publicly that the assignment fit the state's educational standards and didn't violate the students' rights.

The Virginia incident is only the latest in a string of Islamophobic events in the United States. On Monday, a New Jersey teacher filed a discrimination lawsuit against her district's Board of Education, claiming she was fired because she is Muslim. The teacher was allegedly reprimanded for showing her students a movie about Malala Yousafzai.
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