School Pulls Vocab Worksheet Over Islam Reference

| by Nik Bonopartis
Teachers read to students at an Okaloosa County school.Teachers read to students at an Okaloosa County school.

A Florida school's staff underwent "religious neutrality training" and a vocabulary worksheet was pulled from classes after parents complained that it referenced Islam.

The offending vocabulary worksheet was issued to students at Laurel Hill School in Laurel Hill, Florida. It used Islamic prophet Mohammad, Muslim holy city Mecca, and the Five Pillars of Faith to illustrate how certain words are used in proper context, the Crestview Bulletin reported.

Before sending the worksheet home with students in the English honors class, the teacher "read aloud to the entire class from the lesson about [Mohammad] and had the word examples pre-populated with information about Islam,” according to Sean Dorsey, the father of a student in the class.

Dorsey said his son, Joshua, became frustrated because the lesson included multiple references to Islam, but did not mention Christianity or other religions.

“He was angry,” said Meg Dorsey, Joshua's mother, who is also a former teacher at the school. “He said, ‘Jesus is better than this.’”

Since then, the parents have kept an eye on their son's homework assignments, which the newspaper said included a broad range of topics including science fiction, the Black Death, and Mohatma Gandhi.

They also complained to school officials.

“We were not looking to exclude religion, or Islam, as we both feel that religion is beneficial and can be presented to children in a school setting … We want Christianity to at least get an equal hearing,” Sean said.

After looking into the complaints from the Dorsey family, the Okaloosa County School District dispatched an "equity officer" to put teachers and staff through "religious neutrality training," the Bulletin reported.

Henry Kelley, a spokesman for the school district, said the district will put a "neutrality staffer" in each school to make sure classroom materials and homework assignments aren't offensive or give the impression of favoring one religion over another.

“We are trying to determine when religion is appropriate in class and when it’s not appropriate,” Kelley said. “… We’re looking at the workbooks to see if the examples where religion is used is appropriate to the course. In a history class, yes. In a vocabulary class, that’s a gray area.”

It's not the first time the district has dealt with concerns over religion in school curriculum. In 2015, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted the district several times over concerns that Okaloosa County schools were endorsing religion, Northwest Florida Daily News reported.

One complaint centered on a holiday event sponsored by a local church and held during school hours, while another concerned a teacher who allegedly took her class to a religious event, telling them they were going to "morning prayer." The FFRF also complained directly to the school board about its members leading prayers.

Sources: Crestview Bulletin, Northwest Florida Daily News / Photo credit: Okaloosa County School District

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