W.Va. school gets out-of-state criticism for lesson on Islam

By Rachel Molenda, Staff writer

A Wyoming County school received angry phone calls after photos surfaced of posters from a multicultural lesson on the Middle East and Islam, but the criticism wasn’t from parents.

Westside High School Principal Robin Hall said she received several calls from people in Florida, Arizona and New York who were upset that the school was teaching about Islam and accused teachers of indoctrinating students.

“We’re all very, very upset,” Hall said Wednesday. “We have a good school, great students, great faculty and a wonderful community.”

Hall said the school was used Monday, while students were off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, for a local coal mine’s retraining workshop. One of the employees in attendance apparently posted to Facebook a video of the posters that had been left hanging in the halls from the October lesson.

“It’s been crazy ever since,” Hall said.

Callers have told Hall they don’t believe the school, which Hall said is located in Southern West Virginia’s Bible belt, should be teaching students about Islam. Or, they told her, if it does, it should focus on the negative aspects, like Islamic radicalism.

“The ones that have called me, they don’t think that the Middle East should be mentioned in the school at all unless you do the bad part about it. You know, that these people are out to kill us and all of that,” Hall said.

Video stills posted on Facebook show hand-made posters outlining Islamic culture, including food and religious beliefs.

Shaun Adkins, a Logan resident who responded to the posters in his own video, confirmed those stills were from the video originally posted by a coal miner but said the video has since been deleted.

One Florida woman, Dianne Lynn Savage, posted the stills, along with a message telling her more-than-11,000 Facebook followers that it was “Time to light up the phones again … ”

Savage wrote in her post that she spoke with Hall, urging her to “get educated about what you are teaching our kids.”

“I also told her that if she were to take a stand and say, ‘NO we wont teach this,’ she would have more parents supporting her than she could count,” Savage wrote.

The post was shared 375 times and had more than 490 comments from Savage’s supporters, as well as Westside students and the school’s community.

Commenters supporting Westside High School said it’s full of God-fearing Christians, holds a prayer circle every morning before school and doesn’t believe learning about other faiths is wrong.

“This is just another culture in our world. No one is telling us that we must believe this way, we are simply being educated about other cultures. There’s nothing sick about it. Its a part of EVERY history book,” wrote Westside High student Shayna Ellis in a comment on Savage’s post.

Hall said public schools in West Virginia are required to incorporate multicultural activities into their lessons. The lesson on the Middle East included teaching students about the Islamic religion and its culture, but wasn’t necessarily the only part of the region students learned about.

“There’s other teachers at the same time that may have brought up Judaism. They may have talked about Israel or Christianity,” Hall said.

Still, Hall said it’s the school’s job to present students with a variety of cultures and beliefs, no matter one’s opinion of whether they are good or bad.

“With information, you get power,” Hall said, “and that’s what everybody should want for all kids, for them to be exposed to things so they can make their own judgments.”

Adkins, who was not at the retraining workshop, said his 8-minute video wasn’t just about Westside High School, but also about “the politically correct mindset that states, above all else, we are to be tolerant.”

“I have always taught my kids to love everyone, be tolerant of everyone and accepting of everyone,” Adkins said. “But when you have a religion or a sect or a whole group of people, who, their mindset and their ideology is to end your life or end the life anyone who doesn’t agree with them, that’s where I draw the line between tolerance and taking a stand.”

Adkins said he is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and served in the Persian Gulf War. He was stationed in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain during that time.

“I don’t think all Muslims are bad. I just think that they’ve become irrelevant and their religion has been taken over by this rogue element,” Adkins said of the difference between Islamic extremists and those who are not.

Adkins said he believes there is a difference between culture and religion, and that Islam falls under the latter. He added that he has a problem with schools teaching about the Islamic faith and not Christianity.

But, Adkins said he doesn’t believe Westside High teachers are trying to convert students. He said he thinks West Virginia schools’ multicultural lessons are too politically correct and that there should be a “dialog” about that at the state level.

“I’m not against it, if you’re in a civics class or a history class. … This multiculturalism that’s being taught in schools is not just in history and civics class,” Adkins said of what he believes to be lessons woven throughout curricula, including discussing foreign currency in math classes. “That, to me, is where the political correctness goes over the top. It wants to inundate the curriculum throughout the whole school,” he said.

The posters have been taken down, Hall said.

When asked if the critical calls motivated her to remove them, she said they didn’t.

“The lesson was in October, and it should have been down at the end of October,” Hall said.

She also plans to start hanging posters for basketball season and the students’ upcoming unit on nutrition.

Hall wasn’t certain Wednesday if she would let another outside group use the school for a function in the future. She said allowing the retraining to be held there was “gracious” of Westside High School.

“It just felt like, if they had an issue with something they saw, particularly generated by a student or students, they should have asked us first,” Hall said. “These kids are like my own kids. As hard as I work for them to have a good school, it disturbs me that anybody would think I’d do anything to harm them in any way.”

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com, 304-348-5102 or follow @rachelmolenda on Twitter.