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Virginia School District Closes Over Islamic Lesson Backlash


FILE - A Virginia social studies class learning about Arabic calligraphy was told to write "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." That message is seen here, from a 2008 banner in Sana'a.

FILE - A Virginia social studies class learning about Arabic calligraphy was told to write "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." That message is seen here, from a 2008 banner in Sana'a.

A rural school district in the U.S. state of Virginia closed Friday after receiving a flood of angry emails and phone messages over an Arabic calligraphy lesson that involved writing a Muslim statement of faith.

Augusta County school district officials said that they were concerned about the "tone and content of these communications," which included thousands of emails and Facebook posts.

In a statement, officials said there had been no specific threat of harm to students, but that they decided to close the schools as a precautionary measure after consulting law enforcement officials.

The angry comments were centered on a school assignment at a Riverheads High School social studies class that involved practicing calligraphy and writing a statement in Arabic professing the Muslim faith. The statement translates to: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."

School officials say the aim of the lesson was to show the complexity of Arabic calligraphy, and not to promote any religious system. It said students would continue to learn about world religions, but that a nonreligious sample of Arabic writing would be used in the future.

The Washington Post reported that the students in the class were also invited to try on a hijab, or headscarf.

Some parents have demanded that the class teacher, Cheryl LaPorte, be fired. LaPorte has declined to comment. A Facebook group supporting her had more than 2,000 members Friday.

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