LAUREL HILL — Laurel Hill School has pulled a vocabulary worksheet after parents complained the lesson referenced Islam but hasn’t mentioned other religions.
It started in January, Sean Dorsey said.
“My son, (Joshua), came home concerned about his vocab sheet assignment ... in which (the teacher) read aloud to the entire class from the lesson about Mohammed and had the word examples pre-populated with information about Islam,” he stated in an email to the News Bulletin.
Such examples that show vocabulary words in context include:
●Pastoral: “Mohammed is not thought of as a pastoral preacher who went into the country to convert people. He is identified with the cities of Mecca and Medina.”
●Quantitative: “His success could be measured not only in quantitative ways — the number of followers of Islam — but also in a qualitative way: the improvement in people’s lives.”
●Requisite: “Following the ‘Five Pillars of Faith’ is a requisite part of Muslim religious duties. The required duties include giving to the poor.”
●Zenith: “The zenith of any Muslim’s life is a trip to Mecca. The trip is the highest point of a Muslim’s earthly path because Mecca is considered the Muslims’ holy city.”
Sean’s wife, Meg, said their son grew frustrated after several Islam references, finally editing a vocabulary word context example.
The worksheet read, “Ramadan is remembered as the time during which Mohammed received the Koran, Islam’s holy book, from the archangel Gabriel.”
Joshua crossed out the last three words and replaced them with “Satan.”
“He was angry,” the former Laurel Hill School teacher said. “He said, ‘Jesus is better than this.’”
‘AN EQUAL HEARING’
Since the incident, Sean and Meg have paid close attention to their son’s work sheets.
Other topics used to illustrate vocabulary words in context have included the Black Death, Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent protests, science fiction, the Industrial Revolution and author Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac.”
However, despite providing information on Islam, other religions, such as Christianity, Mormonism and Judaism, haven’t appeared in the honors English II class’ related lessons, Dorsey said.
Dorsey said the Muslim mentions themselves were not his main concern, which instead is the worksheets’ exclusion of other faith-based examples.
“We were not looking to exclude religion, or Islam, as we both feel that religion is beneficial and can be presented to children in a school setting … We want Christianity to at least get an equal hearing,” Sean Dorsey stated.
Meg Dorsey said she believes educators should give a more critical eye to learning materials.
“I think a lot of teachers take what that curriculum is and they use it blindly,” she said. “They don’t always consider alternatives.”
LHS Principal Lee Martello met with the Dorseys in January to address their concerns, the couple said.
The Okaloosa County School District researched the matter, and, at the school's request, sent its equity officer to conduct religious neutrality training in February. This week, the Dorseys learned that Martello pulled the offending worksheet from classroom use.
Martello referred questions to school district spokesman Henry Kelley, who said balance is crucial when dealing with religion in public schools.
The district plans to have a religion neutrality staffer in each school who is trained to examine religion’s classroom use, Kelley said.
“We are trying to determine when religion is appropriate in class and when it’s not appropriate,” he said. “… We’re looking at the workbooks to see if the examples where religion is used is appropriate to the course,” he said. “In a history class, yes. In a vocabulary class, that’s a gray area.”
Kelley said, pro or con, people have become more touchy about religion as American culture has changed over the years.
“We get complaints from people that there’s too much Christianity in schools,” he said.
Recent incidents are as follows:
●A Walker Elementary School parent’s objections to the phrase “Muslims pray to Allah” in a fifth-grader’s workbook led to the book’s removal.
●The Freedom From Religion Foundation alleged in a Jan. 13 letter that a Laurel Hill School teacher read “The Boy with a Wish,” a book about angels, to her students before Christmas.
●An LHS parent alleged that a second-grade teacher took students to See You at the Pole, a student-led prayer event, Sept. 23, 2015 in the school’s gym.
In any case, “The idea that the school district is picking one religion over another or unfairly harming one over the other is simply not true,” Kelley said.
However, he said, “Some people have convinced themselves their religion is under attack.”