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Outrage Over Arabic-Writing Lesson Leads Virginia District to Close Schools

Schools are closed today in Verona, Va., and weekend athletic events canceled, after school district officials there have been fielding angry phone calls and emails over a classroom assignment that asked students to copy an Islamic statement of faith.

While there was "no specific threat of harm to students," according to a statement from the district, the "tone and content of those communications," some of which came from outside Virginia, were alarming. "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," said the district. 

The upheaval was sparked after a world geography teacher at Riverheads High School had students practice calligraphy by writing a Muslim recitation that translates as: "There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." Students also viewed copies of the Quran, reports Staunton, Va.'s News Leader.

Some parents complained that the assignment amounted to religious indoctrination. At a forum held in the district earlier this week, several called for the teacher's termination. 

The assignment was meant to "demonstrate the complex artistry of the written language used in the Middle East," and students were not asked to "translate [the statement], recite it, or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief," the district told the newspaper.

Students will continue learning about world religions, as the Virginia state standards require, the district website says, but "a different, nonreligious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future."

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