Students of Augusta County Public Schools in central Virginia are enjoying an early winter break thanks to outrage over a lesson in Arabic calligraphy. During a world geography unit on Islam on Dec. 11, Riverheads High School teacher Cheryl LaPorte asked students to practice calligraphy by copying an Islamic statement of faith known as the shahada, per CBS News. Some refused, with at least one parent calling the lesson "indoctrination." LaPorte didn't actually come up with the lesson herself. The News Leader reports it came from a teacher workbook and was meant to show "the artistic complexity of calligraphy." Still, some argued LaPorte should be fired for "violating children's religious beliefs." About 100 people met at a church on Tuesday to express their outrage, which led to additional security measures, including locking the high school's doors after the kids arrived on Wednesday and Thursday.
Many students expressed their support for LaPorte, calling her "a great teacher." The Virginia Department of Education and Superintendent Eric Bond found her lesson involving the shahada met state standards and didn't violate students' rights because they weren't asked to "translate it, recite it, or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief." (The translation: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.") However, an abundance of "profane" and "hateful" calls and emails followed, says a sheriff. Based on the "tone and content" of the communications, the district on Thursday announced the Friday closure, reports NBC Washington. School officials say a non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the Islam unit in the future, per WVIR.