Schools in Augusta County Virginia will be closed on Friday after a calligraphy lesson prompted a disturbing anti-Muslim backlash.
The controversy started when a lesson in World Geography class asked students to try to copy an example of Arabic calligraphy. The phrase was a statement of Islamic faith but the students were “not asked to translate the statement or to recite it.” Rather, the purpose of the exercise was to give students an “idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.”
The class covered a variety of religions including Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism. Some students refused to complete the assignments and several parents protested at a meeting earlier this week. Kimberly Herndon, the parent who organized the protest, called the lesson “indoctrination.”
“She gave up the Lord’s time. She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed,” Herndon said.
Other parents called for the teacher, Cheryl LaPorte, to be fired.
This prompted over-the-top national coverage from places like Fox News and the story quickly spread on social media. The attention resulted in “voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area” to the school district. A statement from Augusta County Public Schools said the decision to close the schools was based on the “tone and content” of the communications “based on the recommendations of law enforcement.”
All Augusta County Schools and Offices are CLOSED tomorrow, December 18.
— SDHS Athletics (@SDHS_Athletics) December 17, 2015
The school district also announced that “a different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future.”
Other students have rallied behind LaPorte, praising her skills as a teacher.
The attacks in Paris and San Bernardino has sparked anti-Muslim backlash throughout the U.S. ThinkProgress has documented that at least 46 anti-Islamic incidents, many of them violent, since the November 13 attacks in Paris.