Parents of students at Lyman High School in Seminole County, Florida, raised concerns about a textbook being used in a world history class that is teaching about Islam.
This issue was finally discussed at a school board meeting on Feb. 24 with members and district leaders in attendance. “To completely separate religion from world history would be inappropriate,” said Dr. Michael Blasewitz, executive director of high schools in Seminole County.
The first complaint was made to WFTV by Ron Wagner who noticed that his son was assigned to study an Islam packet and compete a prayer rug assignment.
Wagner read from part of his son's world history book: "There is no god, but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God." Wagner stated that although he is not religious himself, he feels that “for it to be mandatory and part of the curriculum and in the textbooks, didn't seem right.”
Blasewitz, who oversees the high school curriculum, says students learn about Judaism as well as Christianity throughout their years in school. “If anything, it’s a little imbalanced toward Christianity and Judaism,” he added.
"There's a difference between teaching of the significance or the impact of a religion and teaching the specific tenets of a religion," Wagner said, upset that his son was allegedly forced to recite an Islamic prayer in his class.
Text messages: Wagner’s son had enrolled in Remind 101, in which students sign up for a third-party text messaging service for teachers to contact students about homework or class events. Blasewitz said parents were allowed to opt in.
Prayer rugs: Students were told to create prayer rugs, but the lesson was an assignment about Islamic art and not worship. The students were told they could incorporate any religious icons they wanted, as long as they observed Islamic artistic values, including no depictions of people or animals. The district said the assignment could be seen as controversial and recommended that a different art assignment "would be more appropriate."
Prayer recitation: Blasewitz interviewed 10 students in the teacher’s two world history classes, and only one remembered the whole class being made to recite the prayer. Other students recalled following the book together in class, and the teacher gave extra credit to students who volunteered to read aloud. The teacher may have written the pillars of Islam on the board, they said, but did not make the students say any of them.
Videos: The students watched short videos, including a TED Talk about stereotypes featuring an unidentified Iranian-American comedian. While the video did not violate guidelines, the district said a more straightforward selection should be made in future classes.
According to AJC, the investigation found that the Lyman High School lesson was “on target with the state benchmarks and mandates.”
As it currently stands, the textbook is approved by many districts nationwide despite receiving criticism by Florida groups for being pro-Islam.
Federal law currently allows for schools to teach about all religions as a historical approach because it is an undeniable and important part of society as a whole.
"In a diverse society, young people should be taught about a wide variety of beliefs, cultures and faiths, and particularly about a faith practiced by millions of Americans and more than one fifth of the world's population,” said Hassan Shibly, executive director with the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida.
"Denying all students access to vital information based on the biased political or religious agenda of Islam phobic groups or a handful of misinformed parents does a disservice to our school system, our state and our nation. History is not kind to those who censor information or ban books."