Chatham Middle School parents questioned the emphasis being put on the teaching of the religion of Islam in a 7th grade social studies class on Monday night during the public portion of the Chatham Board of Education meeting.
Nancy Gayer, one of the parents to address the board, told a story about how her son had been prohibited from presenting a power-point to the class years earlier because the teacher objected to one panel shown for "three seconds," which gave his own religious view.
Gayer said her son was not allowed to show his power-point to the class because it was "proselytizing." She compared it to the "World Cultures and Geography Class" her son is taking at the middle school (see video below), which Gayer believes is outright "proselytizing" in violation of district policy No 2270.
Chatham parent Nancy Gayer addresses the board about 7th grade social studies class
"My sincere issue - according to policy 2270 - the board of education directs that no religious beliefs be promoted or disparaged," Gayer said. "I'm asking the board meet with the policy committee and eliminate the teaching of Islam and all other religions."
Because of a problem with the computer system, BOE members were unable to preview the videos and other material about the class emailed to the board by the Chatham parents before the meeting. Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa indicated that social studies curriculum supervisor Steven Maher could be invited to a curriculum meeting to explain how the class meets core curriculum standards.
Superintendent Dr. Michael LaSusa responded to the questions about the class by explaining it is required by New Jersey in order to "broaden understanding" among students.
Parent Libby Hilsenrath handed out material, which had been emailed to the board, and gave some details she felt crossed the line into proselytizing during a cartoon video shown to the students (see video below).
"It even goes so far as even making a statement "There is no God except Allah," Hilsenrath said. "This video also states that Allah is the maker of everything, the one true God, etc. The main character is the cartoon video is looking for converts."
Hilsenrath also argued that the reason for teaching the "tenets" of religions such as Islam that students don't know about is flawed. She agreed that students may not be able to answer questions about the tenets of Islam, but pointed out that the same questions about the tenets of Judaism and Christianity would not be known by the students, either, but those religions are not taught.
Parent Libby Hilsenrath goes over a homework assignment students from the class are reqired to learn about Islam
Chatham resident Jane Devlin asked the board of education members to explain the difference between teaching about culture and teaching the religion in video below.
"I do support an acceptance and tolerance of all faiths," Devlin said. "I am inclusive not only of all faiths, but of cultures, races and diverse backgrounds."