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Parent wants Sullivan BOE to remove text on Islam now

Rick Wagner • Nov 7, 2016 at 11:24 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Bluff City Middle School parent Michelle Edmisten has formally asked the Sullivan County school system to remove the seventh grade “My World History” textbook by Pearson because, among other things, she says that it presents a distorted view of Islam. She asked for its immediate removal.

In addition, a member of the public and board member said the non-binding letter of intent on the county and Kingsport school facilities studies benefits Kingsport but not the county, although the board approved the letter in a 5-1 vote with one abstaining.

Edmisten, making her second appearance before the board in as many months, is being represented by Freedom X, a California-based, self-described conservative Christian group with a website that says it fights Islamic indoctrination in U.S. schools. “This will not go away. I will not go away,” Edmisten told the board.

 

“We do have someone with legal representation,” school board attorney Pat Hull said, asking that except for the review process for the book removal request that the board direct communications about the issue through him. Edmisten said her daughter took a zero on a social studies test on Islam after her teacher did not allow her to have alternative readings and test, which Edmisten said was allowed in Kingsport City Schools.

Edmisten, who addressed the board during public comment at its Oct. 3 meeting, again addressed the board at Monday night’s meeting. The form she signed and turned in to the county Department of Education was dated Friday, Nov. 4. She also had posted a video on Facebook urging a large turnout at the meeting. The video was posted on the Sullivan County Parents Against Islam Indoctrination Facebook page.

“This book promotes Islamic propaganda/religion. The entire book is bias(ed) and does not teach the history of Islam in truth or entirety. Specific pages are throughout the book, specifically section 3,” Edmisten wrote on Form 4.403.F2. “This textbook is being used to teach a distorted view of Islamic history and religious practices.”

In her remarks, she blasted the textbook for comparing Mohammad, Jesus and Moses, saying Mohammad was a murderer and rapist and that the five pillars of Islam in the textbook are used by Muslims to recruit people to Islam.

“I want the book removed immediately,” Edmisten said. She lamented that Bible verses were removed from a wall at Indian Springs Elementary School and said that Tennessee law prohibits discrimination against a religious viewpoint and voluntary expressions of faith-based views. 

After the meeting, Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said the scripture in question was removed at Indian Springs after a complaint was received. The Facebook page posted three photos Sunday of Islamic posters identified as being from Sullivan East High School, including the five pillars of Islam and one with “Allah is One.” They appeared to have been created by students. 

As for the handling of Edmisten’s form, Rafalowski said the principal of the middle school would have 15 days to form a review committee under board policy.

Board of Education Chairman Michael Hughes said that committee, among other things, likely would look at the Pearson textbook and the other Tennessee-approved seventh grade social studies text. Tennessee is in the midst of reviewing social studies standards, which the state Board of Education has proposed be streamlined to delete a whole section on Islam in seventh grade. New standards will be in place in the 2019-20 school year.

“It gives false claims and views on Islam, trying to ‘normalize’ through our children,” she wrote of the textbook. “This book is disproportionate regarding Islam and other religions, teaching doctrine from Islam and not the others.”

During the voting portion of the meeting, the board approved the letter of intent, already approved by the Kingsport BOE, that lays out long-discussed plans for Kingsport to have a new science and technology center at Dobyns-Bennett High School and buy Sullivan North High School/Middle School from the county for $20 million and turn it into a city middle school.

BOE member Mark Ireson, of Colonial Heights, voted no, saying the document benefited the city school system and locked the county system into its current plan, while Jane Thomas, of the Bluff City/Bristol area, abstained. Officials said Bristol wasn’t in the letter because no transfer of property was occurring with that system.

The county facilities plans are to build a new 1,700-student high school focused on career technical education near Northeast State Community College and a new 800-student middle school in the East High zone, Sullivan South, North and most Central students would attend the new school, with about 250 Central-zoned students moving to East. Central and South would become county middle schools.

The letter calls for a $140 million bond issue from the County Commission, to be shared in proportion to student populations among the county, Kingsport and Bristol systems. Hughes said the main purpose of the document was to get in writing what was proposed at a September meeting among city and county officials at Northeast State.

During public comment, Christi Sexton, who said she was a single mother who moved from Bristol, Va., to the Kingsport section of Colonial Heights recently, sought assurances from Rafalowski that her city-zoned children could continue in county schools under managed choice with free county bus transportation. Rafalowski assured Sexton that would continue.

Also during public comment, Jo-Rita Gragg supported the stances of both Edmisten and Ireson. 

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