By Martin Fisher, PRB News
Christian Action Network News Correspondent
The spreading threat of children being indoctrinated into Islam claimed new ground in West Virginia to the shock of parents in and around Gerrardstown last month.
What broke the controversy was the courageous stand by a dad whose seventh-grade daughter came home with a thick learning packet on Islam.
Rich Penkoski said that he knew right away something was very wrong with the 30-page packet, remembering the slim two-sheets of paper handed out about Christianity earlier.
“It asked kids to write out the Shihaddah, and it explains that it is the Islamic confession of faith,” Penkoski said. “I said, no – you’re not doing this. No.”
Martin Mawyer, president of Christian Action Network, said the Islamic indoctrination program is one of the most egregious he has ever seen.
“Children were even give a worksheet called Reading from the Koran. And it gives them quranic verses to study,” Mawyer said. “Would a public school dare to ever assign a worksheet called Reading from the Bible which had students studying Christian verses? We know the answer to that. Of course not.”
Penkoski called the principal at Mount Ridge Middle School and thought he had an agreement to eliminate the indoctrination portions, including an offensive assignment disguised as calligraphy practice: to copy the Islamic statement of faith in Arabic.
“My daughter, Brielle, came home the next day with a packet. It was the very same packet, with certain aspects of the assignment crossed out,” Penkoski said. “The calligraphy assignment with the Shihaddah was still there. I said, are you kidding me? You have to do this? She said, ‘Yes.’”
Penkoski called the school again, adamant about speaking with no one but the principal.
“I said no, you’re getting him for me later, your getting him right now. This is something that’s not going to wait,” he said.
After that second conversation, Penkoski was left uncertain about all of it. The principal said the whole section would be optional, but the school administration would not respond to underlying inconsistencies between their assurances and how the materials were being presented in class.
Brielle said she could tell right away that the teaching about Islam was much more detailed than other sections on Christianity and the history of Israel, (Judaism was not particularly covered at all)
She added that talk among students included speculation that their teacher was herself Muslim.
“I said I thought so, and (a friend) said she thought so too,” Brielle said.
“There was no reason to think that these assignments were optional,” Penkoski said. “The teacher’s job is not to teach doctrine, that’s my job – I will do that – the teachers are not qualified to teach doctrine.”
Penkoski assessed the assignments further, finding the materials on Islam were complementary and positive, even to the point of glamorizing Islam. Meanwhile, the scant information on Christianity focused on the problem of understanding so many denominations.
“I am a minister. I know proselytizing, and that’s what they did,” he said.
When other parents found out, “they were outraged,” Penkoski said. “They could not believe this was happening in a public school in West Virginia.”
The history and geography class moved on to other lessons, but the problem remains. There is no agreement on proselytism and indoctrination happening again next year.
“This is a problem,” Penkoski said.
So he notified his state legislator, who put him in contact with West Virginia State Delegate Marshall Wilson of District 60, across the district line from where the Penkoskis live, and where Gerrardstown and the school are located.
Wilson said that many other parents in his district have been calling him also, and others from the region and even other states.
The outpouring of concern led to discussions about putting the state board of education under the supervision of the legislature as other boards and commissions are.
“Apparently this is going to take a constitutional amendment, to give the state legislature this oversight,” Wilson said.
Wilson added he can and is probing the matter in order to formulate an official report. One problem is that while there is a standard procedure for the selection of textbooks, and teachers are given latitude to bring in “supplementals” meaning additional material.
This led to a very obvious unevenness of material presented for Islam compared to other religions in Briele’s class.
“My understanding is one teacher has chosen some supplementals,” Wilson added. “I would like to ask her, by what criteria did you choose these supplementals?”
According to Wilson, the teacher so far has refused to respond to his requests for a conversation, citing the advice of legal council.
Wilson said that in a situation like this, parents should follow Penkoski’s example of response.
“I think the people of West Virginia should do what Mr. Penkoski and his family has done,” he said. “Tell them, we pay the tax dollars that support your schools. I would like to know what’s going on here. And if it’s not resolved, contact local state legislators.”
And after that, there is the option of seeking legal council, which Penkoski has also done. The Thomas More Law Center team representing him is considering legal options at this time, and possible court filings are pending.
Penkoski, who runs Warriors for Christ, an online gospel ministry, warns parents and all care-giving adults to closely monitor what children are being taught in public schools.
“If my daughter hadn’t come to me, our kids would be further indoctrinated in Islam, and we wouldn’t even know it,” he said. Most “trust the school system blindly, and schools often teach things that are directly contradicting your beliefs.”