Faced with the threat of a federal lawsuit, the Olmsted Falls schools have pulled a video about Muslims in America from its seventh-grade social studies curriculum.
School Superintendent Jim Lloyd said the district agreed to remove the 2005 documentary TV show, "30 Days: Muslims and America," rather than spend money defending the right to show it.
"Muslims and America" is narrated by Morgan Spurlock, best known for his film "Super Size Me," in which he ate only McDonald's for one month.
It follows a Christian man who lives as a Muslim for 30 days with a family in Dearborn, Mich., sharing the family's culture, studying the Koran and attending prayers.
Jenny McKeigue -- a mother of three who works for the district part-time as alumni director -- objected to the show, which her son saw in class in 2010. She said it promoted Islam and did not fairly represent all ethnic and religious groups.
"I said, you probably should remove the video," McKeigue said. "It's not historic and it's really inappropriate."
However, McKeigue said she didn't get anywhere with the district, and earlier this year, she contacted the Thomas More Law Center, in Ann Arbor, Mich., which in its own words "promotes Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values."
The law center called the program an "Islamic proselytizing video."
"Teachers may not constitutionally show videotapes that violate the neutrality they must maintain toward religion or that engages in religious instruction," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the law center. "Showing 'Muslims and America' violated those principles and the establishment clause of our Constitution. Under the guise of teaching the history of Islam to seventh-graders, history teachers were proselytizing students to the Islamic faith."
Since the video deals with Muslims in America in the 21st century, McKeigue and the Thomas More Law Center argued it was inappropriate for a class dealing with history.
The superintendent said the district was in no way trying to indoctrinate students.
"We don't teach a particular religion," Lloyd said. "We teach about the social study aspect that religion has on regions and other things."
In seventh grade, Olmsted Falls students learn about history from 750 B.C. to 1600 A.D., including information about Islam and the Crusades of the Middle Ages.
"That's controversial stuff," Lloyd said.
He said McKeigue was the only parent who complained about the video. Lloyd, who currently is in his first year as superintendent, said he and other school officials made the decision to withdraw the video rather than face a legal challenge.
"We have limited resources that we get from the state and others, and we want to be responsible with our money," Lloyd said. "I'm not going to fight a legal battle over a 45-minute Morgan Spurlock video. It's not worth it. There's plenty of other resources out there for our teachers to use, so we simply pulled it."
Students only watched and discussed the video during one or one and a half periods during the school year, Lloyd said.
"In the grand scheme of things, on 178½ other days, other things were taught," Lloyd said. "For me, in the grand scheme of things, it is one small bit of content."
While McKeigue said she is glad the video has been withdrawn, she still has concerns about how materials are selected for use in the classroom.
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"I hope that going forward there will be a review process for educational materials," she said. "The board and the administration need to listen to parents more. Parents have a lot to say. They could contribute a lot."
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union said a school district should be allowed to show a video that teaches about the culture of a religion. Chris Link, executive director of the Ohio ACLU expressed her belief that was the intention of the school district rather than to teach students to practice a religion.
Link said she found it troubling the school district would remove the video based on the complaint of one parent. She said the group's attorneys planned to look into the issue.
Julia Shearson, executive director of the Cleveland Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said she didn't think the video crossed the line of proselytizing or providing religious instruction. Instead, it debunked common stereotypes about Islam and Muslims.
"Instead of being threatened with costly and baseless federal litigation, the school should have been applauded for having the courage to explore such complicated and nuanced topics," Shearson said.
Trying novel approaches to stretch the minds of students is a teacher's job, she said.
However, in part because of the complex topics it offers, the material might be better suited for a high school civics class, Shearson added.