VERONA, Virginia — Security concerns have prompted officials in a Virginia county to close schools after receiving a torrent of criticism, including threats, over a world geography lesson that included tracing the Arabic lettering of the shahada, the Muslim statement of faith.
Augusta County School Board President Eric Bond announced Thursday that schools would be closed Friday.
Bond said the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution” after consulting with law enforcement. He says there was no specific threat to students but did not elaborate on the safety concerns.
The county canceled extracurricular activities through the weekend.
Media outlets report that a Riverheads High School teacher last week asked students to complete an assignment that included practicing calligraphy and writing the Muslim statement of faith, which reads, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Students weren’t asked to translate the statement or recite it.
A statement from the school board cited “voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area” whose “tone and content” sparked the concerns.
“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.
“We regret having to take this action,” the district noted, “but we are doing so based on the recommendations of law enforcement and the Augusta County School Board out of an abundance of caution.”
Officials acknowledged the discomfort of parents over the religious text students were asked to copy, saying in the statement: “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.”
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.