Augusta County schools in Virginia closed for holiday break early on Friday after furor erupted over an assignment that had students write a passage in Arabic that eventually culminated in threats of violence.
A classroom assignment that required students to practice their calligraphy by writing the Muslim statement of faith, the shahada, was initially defended by the school district. The faith statement is, "There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."
CNN reports that the shahada will not be used in future calligraphy practice assignments.
Fox News' Todd Starnes writes that at Riverheads High School in Augusta County, Virginia, female students were also invited to wear Muslim clothing.
At a school meeting on December 11, the school district came together to discuss the lesson with incensed parents. The district said in a statement:
"Neither these lessons, nor any other lesson 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."
Parents stated that the children were not told what they were writing, which meant that a few Christian teenagers did not know they were writing, "There is no god but Allah."
The district stated that the calligraphy assignment was not translated for the students, and students were not asked to transpose or recite the words, nor were they required to adopt or pronounce the script as a personal belief. Al Jazeera reported that the school decided to close early for break, affecting around 10,000 students.
The school officials said this was an art project, not a theological lesson. They added that the assignment was aligned with the Virginia Department of Education Standards of Learning and the content instruction on monotheistic world religions.
The school leaders said the students were being taught about the "modest dress adopted by many in the Islamic faith and were invited to try on a scarf as a part of an interactive lesson about the Islamic concept."
The district pointed out that the scarf used in the exercise was not an authentic Islamic hijab. The leaders added that they also cover other religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism.
When one parent noted that the Koran was presented to the students but not the Bible, the teacher answered that all the students had read or seen the Bible.
Officials with Augusta County Public Schools have told parents that this lesson had nothing to do with indoctrination, as some have charged. But Christian parent Kimberly Herndon said if her truth cannot be taught in schools, she did not want false doctrine to be spoken. Herndon said the teacher gave up time for the Lord and gave it to Muhammad.
Some parents, writes Billy Hallowell of The Blaze, were so angry that they would not allow their children to complete the course if the teacher in question remains the instructor in the class.
PJ Media states that at Vernon Hills High School in Chicago, the Muslim Student Association invited students to an event at which their peers were given the opportunity to wear the hijab in an attempt to challenge Muslim stereotyping. One student who tried on a red hijab said:
"With more people wearing a hijab around school, it could bring more acceptance to the religion and have more people become more aware."
Augusta County School Superintendent Dr. Eric Bond said students will be given the same kind of assignments when they study Africa and China, according to Snejana Farberov writing for the Daily Mail.