AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) -- UPDATE 12/15/15 10:32 p.m.
Kimberly Herndon said she felt her rights as a parent had been violated when her 9th grade son came home with a homework assignment last week. He attends Riverheads High School.
Assignment Given at Riverheads
The assignment asked him to copy the Shahada, the Islamic statement of faith which translates to, "there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."
When asked about her reaction to the assignment, Herndon said she was, "shocked that this was sent home, shocked that this was in the schools (and) shocked that this was right here in our small town."
The assignment says it is meant to give the students "an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy." Herndon said she felt the assignment tried to indoctrinate her child into the Islamic religion.
"There was no trying about it. The sheet that she (the teacher) gave out was pure indoctrinate in its origin," said Herndon.
Augusta County School Superintendent Dr. Eric Bond said, "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. " He went on to say the lesson "attempts objectively to present world religions in a way that is interesting and interactive for students."
One student we spoke with says she didn't feel comfortable completing this assignment, even if it just was for calligraphy. "If it was, why couldn't we just learn to write 'hello,' 'goodbye'... you know normal words, not that," said Laurel Truxell, a student in the class.
On Tuesday night, dozens of people met at Good News Ministries to voice their own opinion. Herndon has not sent her child back to school since the incident happened last week. "I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian, and I'm going to stand behind Christ," said Herndon.
Meanwhile, the school maintains the lesson is consistent with the Standards of Learning in Virginia.
Full Statement From Dr. Eric Bond:
We appreciate parents bringing concerns directly to our attention, and we are always willing to meet with parents about curriculum questions and concerns. On Friday, December 11, 2015, the principal of Riverheads High School, one of its teachers, and central office staff met with parents to discuss such concerns. Superintendent Dr. Eric Bond agreed to meet one-on-one to further discuss such concerns with a parent on Tuesday, December 15, 2015, at 11 a.m., but the parent declined to attend that meeting. School administration believes any discussion about curriculum should be based on a clear understanding of the facts.
As a part of a high school world geography course and consistent with the Standards of Learning, when students study a particular geographic region, the Virginia Department of Education Curriculum Framework and Scope and Sequence for World Geography includes the region’s culture, language, economy, foods, predominant religions, and political climate. As a part of each regional unit, students are invited to participate in hands-on activities intended to give them a better objective understanding of the region and its culture (including its religions) and to allow for interactive learning.
When they study a geographic region, students study the religion and written language of the region. Consequently, students learn about Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam, among others. In one class, an assignment on religion and culture in the unit on the Middle East involved an Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic. 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. The statement presented as an example of the calligraphy was not translated for students, nor were students asked to translate it, recite it or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief. They were simply asked to attempt to artistically render written Arabic in order to understand its artistic complexity. The students in the class will engage in similar calligraphy and drawing assignments when they study China, its unique written language and the yin and yang (a traditional symbol in Taoism and Confucianism).
Students learn material from the SOL Curriculum Framework in order to recognize cultural regions around the world by identifying characteristics of the “cultural landscape” such as dress, architecture, statues, monuments, music and art so the student can understand how cultural differences and similarities can link or divide regions. Students also learn about the cultures and the religious practices of the geographic regions they study. In one class during their study of the Middle East, students were 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 of modest dress. The scarf used in the activity was not an actual Islamic religious hijab. The students in the class can engage in similar assignments when they study China and Africa: student volunteers will be able to try on actual traditional Chinese clothing (chan song) and traditional African clothing (shuka). In addition, the students will be invited to observe and touch Buddhist prayer beads during the unit on China.
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. Each of the lessons attempts objectively to present world religions in a way that is interesting and interactive for students.
The content of the assignment was consistent with Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Standards of Learning and the requirements for content instruction on world monotheistic religions. Virginia public schools are expected and required by the VDOE to teach the content of the Standards of Learning. The curriculum framework established by the Standards of Learning is outlined in “Scope and Sequence” documents provided by the VDOE. The relevant portion of the VDOE Scope and Sequence for a World Geography class for instruction on monotheistic religions in the world can be found at the following link:
http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/sol/standards_docs/history_socialscience/previous.shtml#previous_blueprints/. See page 163.
UPDATE: 12/15/2015 5 p.m.
Regarding the assignment on Facebook, Riverheads parent, Kimberly Herndon, wrote on December 11:
"I am preparing to confront the county on this issue of the Muslim indoctrination taking place here in an Augusta County school. This evil has been cloaked in the form of multiculturalism."
In the same post, she added:
"Christian girls in this class were called to volunteer to adorn the apparel of Muslim women. Unknowingly these children did so. Also unknowingly they were instructed to denounce our Lord by copying this creed of Islam."
The entire post has been shared over 700 times.
In response to parents' concerns over the assignment, Superintendent Dr. Eric Bond sent WHSV the following statement Tuesday (Dec. 15) saying:
"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. Each of the lessons attempts objectively to present world religions in a way that is interesting and interactive for students."
Regarding the apparel Herndon refers to in her post, Dr. Bond said, "In one class during their study of the Middle East, students were 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 of modest dress. The scarf used in the activity was not an actual Islamic religious hijab."
A community meeting regarding a calligraphy assignment given at Riverheads High School last week is set for tonight.
The meeting is designed as an opportunity for the community to hold a discussion about an assignment involving the shahada, which is an Islamic statement of faith. The shahada is translated to “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”
Parents say the assignment was given last week at Riverheads.
Friday, Superintendent Dr. Eric Bond told WHSV, "we have been made aware of the parental concerns. We are looking into them."
The community meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at Good News Ministries IPHC in Staunton.
WHSV plans on attending the meeting to learn more. We're also working to confirm more details with the school district as well.
We'll post an update here as soon as we have more information officially confirmed.