Schools Closed in Virginia District After Uproar Over Arabic Calligraphy Lesson | NBC4 Washington

Schools Closed in Virginia District After Uproar Over Arabic Calligraphy Lesson

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    SEYLLOU DIALLO/AFP/Getty Images
    A banner shows the Shahada, the Islamic statement of belief in one God and acceptance of Mohammed as God's prophet, in Dakar on January 24, 2015, during a demonstration. The statement was reportedly shown in a lesson in Virginia last week, leading to canceled classes for Augusta County Public Schools.

    A central Virginia school district has canceled classes Friday after concerns over the "tone and content" of calls and emails received about a lesson in Arabic calligraphy.

    Augusta County Public Schools, near Staunton in central Virginia, will be closed after the district received "voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area" about a high school World Geography class lesson, the district announced Thursday evening.

    In a lesson Friday on the Middle East, students were presented with an Islamic statement of faith written in Arabic calligraphy, superintendent Eric Bond told The News Leader.

    "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," a statement Bond gave the paper said.

    The statement was not translated into English, and students were not asked to "translate it, recite it or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief," Bond said.

    A parent organized a forum Tuesday night about the lesson, calling it "indoctrination" in Islam, The News Leader reported.

    Since then, the school system has received so many calls and emails that Sheriff Randall Fisher advised schools to close, the statement from the district said.

    "The communications have significantly increased in volume [Thursday], and based on concerns regarding the tone and content of those communications, Sheriff Fisher and Dr. Bond mutually decided schools and school offices will be closed," the district said.

    School officials said there are no specific threats to students, schools or school offices.

    Augusta County students will continue to learn about world religions, as state standards require, but a non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future, the district said.

    "As we have emphasized, no lesson was designed to promote a religious viewpoint or change any student’s religious belief," the district said.