In yet another example of how anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. may be reaching a fever pitch, a central Virginia school district was forced to shut its doors on Friday after a lesson on Arabic calligraphy inspired an angry backlash.
According to The News Leader, Riverheads High School Geography teacher Cheryl LaPorte had her students write out a Muslim article of faith in calligraphy. It translated to "there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah," though the school says students were never made aware of the meaning. LaPorte also showed students a copy of the Koran. The goal was to inform students about the complexity of Arabic calligraphy.
Instead, it has provoked accusations of indoctrination. According to NBC Washington, Augusta County Public Schools officials received "voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area" with some students boycotting the assignment at the behest of their parents.
"The communications have significantly increased in volume [Thursday], and based on concerns regarding the tone and content of those communications, Sheriff Fisher and [Superintendent] Dr. [Eric] Bond mutually decided schools and school offices will be closed," the district said in a statement.
"As we have emphasized, no lesson was designed to promote a religious viewpoint or change any student’s religious belief," the district added.
There have been no specific threats made to students, faculty or facilities. And earlier in the week, Superintendent Bond had written a letter to parents assuring them that their children were "secure and safe."
The decision is reminiscent of a similar shutdown, which occurred earlier this week on a much more massive scale in Los Angeles, where the nation's second largest school district was temporarily shut down following unspecified threats, which were later determined to be a hoax.
Meanwhile, hundreds of parents in Augusta Country have gathered at a public forum on Tuesday to express their anger over LaPorte's lesson. "She gave up the Lord's time," Kimberly Herndon, a parent who organized the event, told The News Leader. "She gave it up and gave it to Mohammed."
Other members of the community have come to the defense of LaPorte. "I'm against anyone getting steamrolled by convoluted logic and I'm very pleased to see that there is so many people around me that feel the same way," one supporter wrote on Facebook, according to CNN.