An entire Virginia school district shut down early for the holidays amid intense backlash against a teacher using an Islamic phrase to teach her students calligraphy. School officials were concerned about safety after criticism from local parents turned into threats pouring in from around the country.
Cheryl LaPorte, a geography teacher at Riverheads High School in Augusta County, Virginia, gave her students homework on Dec. 11 to teach them about the intricacies of calligraphy.
“This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy,” the homework read, presenting an Arabic phrase that was not translated, according to The New York Times.
The phrase was actually from the Shahada, a daily Islamic prayer that translates into “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
Several parents loudly complained about the assignment, going so far as to accuse LaPorte of trying to convert their children to Islam.
Augusta County parent, Kimberly Herndon, spearheaded the outrage, organizing a forum for parents to voice the grievances against the calligraphy homework and demand that LaPorte be fired. She seemed less concerned that religion broached the school curriculum and more worried that LaPorte was promoting a belief system different from her own.
“This evil has been cloaked in the form of multiculturalism,” Herndon wrote in a Facebook post. “This creed is connected to jihad in that it is the chant that is shouted while beheading those of Christian faith.”
LaPorte is not Muslim.
The outcry breached beyond the Virginia community, school officials receiving strongly worded messages from around the country that Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher described as “profane” and “hateful,” according to CBS.
Some of the angry protesters threatened to behead LaPorte and fix her head on a spike in their messages, according to The Washington Post.
After consulting with Sheriff Fisher, school officials decided to close down the entire district on Dec. 17, cancelling classes and a holiday concert scheduled for that weekend as well as a fundraiser.
“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,” Augusta County school officials said in a statement, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Augusta School District superintendent Eric W. Bond emailed a statement to all parents assurances that the religious phrase was only incidental, according to The New York Times.
“Neither these lessons, nor any other lesson in the world geography course, are an attempt at indoctrination to Islam or any other religion,” Dr. Bond wrote.
School officials have announced that they will not be removing the calligraphy lesson from their world geography class in future sessions. Instead, they will simply use a different Arabic phrase that won’t have a religious tone. LaPorte will not be fired and it has not been disclosed whether or not she has been subjected to any disciplinary measures.