STAUNTON, Va. (Christian Examiner)— A Virginia school district closed all its schools and administrative offices on last week because of security concerns stemming from a backlash against a calligraphy assignment where students were asked to write the Islamic declaration of faith.
The closure of Augusta County schools comes a day after all sports and extracurricular activities were cancelled and the schools were locked down on Thursday. In a statement on the district's website, the superintendent, Eric Bond, said "the division had received an overwhelming amount of electronic communication about the Riverheads High School religious calligraphy controversy," according to the Staunton News-Leader.
Students will not return to school until Jan. 4.
"While there has been no specific threat of harm to students, schools and school offices will be closed Friday, Dec. 18, 2015," Bond wrote in the statement." All extra-curricular activities are likewise cancelled for tonight, Thursday, Dec. 17, through the weekend. 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 security concerns follow a parent complaint about a high school teacher who was teaching a world geography lesson on Islam. The teacher asked students to write "the Shahada," an Islamic declaration of faith in Arabic calligraphy. According to the newspaper, conservative Christian parents "were outraged and hosted a heated forum on Tuesday night" at a local church. The paper says the national media attention on the case has "led to the security concerns."
Kimberly Herndon, an August County parent who organized the public forum, called the calligraphy assignment indoctrination, according to an earlier article from the News-Leader.
"That's why we need to join together," Herndon told other parents. "If my truth cannot be spoken in schools, I don't want false doctrine spoken in schools. That's what keeps it even across the board."
The Shabada, which the students were asked to write, is: "There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is his messenger." The News-Leader says the recitation of the statement is a "fundamental step in conversion to Islam."
In an earlier press release by Bond, the superintendent told parents that when students study a specific region in class they also study its religion and language.
"The students were presented with the statement to demonstrate the complex artistry of the written language used in the Middle East, and were asked to attempt to copy it in order to give the students an idea of the artistic complexity of the calligraphy," Bond wrote in the release.