Augusta County Schools Closed Dec. 17-18 Due to 'Tone and Content' of Calls and E-mails

Stuarts Draft High School
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) -- UPDATE 12/18/15 1:05 p.m.:
On Friday afternoon, Augusta County Schools released the following statement about the closure of schools and cancellation of activities on December 18.
The message is the full text of Dr. Bond's communication with Augusta County Schools parents and employees:

"As you know, together with Sheriff Fisher and the School Board, I made the decision to begin winter break early, by closing schools today. We communicated that decision to parents as soon as possible yesterday evening. I wanted to follow up today to provide further explanation of the concerns that led to the closure. First and most importantly, we are not aware of any specific threat of harm to students. However, we received significant numbers of email messages and phone calls. Some communications posed a risk of harm to school officials. Others threatened significant protests on or near school property. Those communications are in the hands of the sheriff. I thank Sheriff Fisher for his help providing additional security at the schools this week and monitoring the vast amount of communication we received. The concerning communications escalated Thursday. The risk of harm to school officials and the risk of further disruption in the educational environment led the School Board, Sheriff Fisher and I to cancel school today and activities for the weekend. I apologize that these incidents disrupted instruction on Friday and activities over the weekend. As always, my priorities lie with the safety of my students, staff and community. Again, I wish each of you enjoyable time with friends and family over the break."

UPDATE:
By Devin Turk

All Augusta County Public Schools canceled classes and activities through the weekend because of backlash from a world geography assignment.

Augusta County Public Schools had been receiving numerous phone calls and e-mails about the assignment. Superintendent Dr. Eric Bond said in a news release, "The communications have increased in volume today." He spoke with Sheriff Randy Fisher and together they "mutually decided schools and school offices will be closed," according to the release. They went on to say there is "no specific threat of harm to students."

Chuck Layman's son attends a county school. He said he understands why the schools would take these precautions: "The schools need to do their job in ensuring their safety."

While some in the community were upset with the reason why the schools are closing, Layman said he understands the outrage other parents have. "People just want to lash out and say 'Oh my kid is missing school because somebody opened their mouth,' and that's not fair," said Chuck Layman. "I mean, I would probably say some of those people just don't understand what exactly was put into that worksheet that the kids were sent home with."

Layman said he wants to know the full story. "If there's specific threats I get that, the community needs to know, but reading on Facebook 'Schools are closed, we got some bad e-mails or calls or whatever,' well what does it entail?" Layman said. "You need to give details."

Superintendent Bond encouraged parents to bring concerns directly to his attention in the future.


ORIGINAL STORY:
By Channing Frampton

Augusta County Public Schools will be closed on Friday and all games and afternoon activities for Thursday evening have been canceled.

On Thursday evening, Augusta County schools posted this message on their website:

"Following parental objections to the World Geography curriculum and ensuing related media coverage, the school division began receiving voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area. As a result of those communications, the Sheriff’s Office and the school division coordinated to increase police presence at Augusta County schools and to monitor those communications. The communications have significantly increased in volume today 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 on Friday, December 18, 2015. While there has been no specific threat of harm to students, schools and school offices will be closed Friday, December 18, 2015. All extra-curricular activities are likewise canceled for tonight, Thursday, December 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.

Finally, the Augusta County School Board and Dr. Bond appreciate parents bringing concerns directly to our attention, and a constructive and respectful dialogue between school and community is always welcome. As we have emphasized, no lesson was designed to promote a religious viewpoint or change any student’s religious belief. Although students will continue to learn about world religions as required by the state Board of Education and the Commonwealth’s Standards of Learning, a different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future."

Before this statement was posted, multiple parents told WHSV they've been asked to pick up their kids as soon as possible from schools. It is unclear what is prompting these events.

Stuarts Draft Athletics said rescheduled events will be posted as soon as they are able. Stuarts Draft High School tweeted that all games and practices for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are canceled.

At about 4:50 p.m., WHSV called Augusta County School Board Chairman Nicholas Collins who, when asked about what's going on at Stuarts Draft High School, he said he had no information to release at this point.