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Chatham Parents Question Emphasis on Islam in 7th Grade 'World Cultures and Geography' Class

Introduction to Islam video shown to Chatham 7th graders in "World Cultures and Geography" Class
The 5 Pillars of Islam
Nancy Gayer came before the BOE to question the emphasis on the religion of Islam in her son's 7th grade "World Cultures and Geography" class Credits: TAP Chatham
Chatham parent Libby Hilsenrath speaks to the Chatham BOE about her son's "World Cultures and Geography" class Credits: TAP Chatham
Chatham resident Jane Devlin asks the board for more information on its "World Cultures and Geography" class being taught at the middle school Credits: TAP Chatham

CHATHAM, NJ - 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 PowerPoint presentation 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 presentation 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.

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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.


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