Updated October 5, 2015: Georgia Department of Education accommodates the anti-Muslim bigots. This is a much more serious development.
Updated October 2, 2015: The original title of this blog entry was Walton County School District (Georgia) Enables Anti-Muslim Ignorance. After I sent, the letter below, I did receive a response in which the Supervisor of Schools wrote that no “opt-out” has been granted. A September 30 news report confirmed this. I also recommend the final chapter of Kent Greenawalt’s book Does God Belong in Public Schools?, which covers the question of a public school student opting out of curriculum material for religious reasons.
Here’s a letter I wrote to the Walton County School District Board of Education members urging them to reconsider allowing parents to have their children “opt-out” of social studies lessons that provide accurate information about Islam. I relied on a news report from Fox 10 Phoenix and WSB-TV in Atlanta.
September 26, 2015
I read two reports regarding some parents’ complaints about a Walton County, Georgia middle school social studies class in which their children learned about Islam. The first is titled “Parents Outraged by School Assignment on Islam,” published on fox10phoenix.com on September 24, 2015. The second is titled “Parents upset kids taught about Islam in school,” published on the wsbtv.com website on September 25, 2015.
According to the first article, the school administration allowed a parent’s daughter to “opt-out of the work.” What does “opt-out” mean? If the student doesn’t answer questions on the opted-out-of subject matter properly on a test, is that portion of the test not counted in the student’s grade? Are students tested on the subject matter? Will a school administration’s decision to allow some students to “opt-out” result in teachers’ deliberately omitting that material from tests, thereby deemphasizing the material school-wide?
What is the district’s “opt-out” policy? Are children of white supremacists allowed to “opt-out” of learning about Jim Crow and the United States civil rights movement? Are children of Young Earth Creationists allowed to “opt-out” of science classes that, presumably, talk about the earth being five billion years old?
My first request to you is a written response explaining the Walton County School District’s policies with regards to parents withdrawing their children from material in the curriculum.
As you consider the specific issue the two articles mentioned, namely teaching about Islam in public schools, please think about the duty you have to Muslim citizens in Walton County and, more generally, statewide. When you enable parents with incorrect information about Muslims to prevent schools from exposing their children to accurate information about Muslims, you are enabling anti-Muslim prejudice.
You should also consider the legal ramifications. If you are enabling parents to dictate that accurate information about one or more religions be withheld, are you not in fact violating Georgia’s Constitution and the United States Constitution by establishing (favoring) one or more religions over others?
My second request is that you notify me when hearings or meetings on this subject occur so that I may attend or at least review the recordings.
Thank you for your attention.