Penns Valley

Penns Valley Area class project on Islam raises concerns from parents

Some Penns Valley Area parents said they’re “outraged” about a class project their children were assigned earlier this week.

But district administration said it falls within class curriculum and state requirements.

Seventh-grade students in teacher Mike Durn’s history class was asked to do a video project about Muhammad and the Islamic religion.

Durn requested that students design “a video in which you will show, visually, the life of Muhammad, the development of Islam and its beliefs.”

The project would include a brief biography of Muhammad, the explanation of the five pillars of Islam and how Islam is connected to Judaism and Christianity.

Durn declined to comment, but district administration contacted the CDT.

Assistant Superintendent Sherri Connell said Durn’s ancient civilization class has board-approved curriculum that covers the Pennsylvania-approved history and government standards through the 1500s.

We have another world history course, which looks at these same ideas in the modern world. The project in question, which has been given in some form for at least the last six years, is partially written to cover the (Pennsylvania) standards stating that we should be teaching students.

Penns Valley Area Assistant Superintendent Sherri Connell

“We have another world history course, which looks at these same ideas in the modern world,” she said. “The project in question, which has been given in some form for at least the last six years, is partially written to cover the (Pennsylvania) standards stating that we should be teaching students.”

As per Pennsylvania standards, it requires teachers to “analyze how continuity and change throughout history has impacted belief systems and religions, commerce and industry, innovations, settlement patterns, social organization, transportation and roles of women in Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe,” and “analyze how conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations impacted world history in Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe” through domestic instability, ethnic and racial relations, labor relations, immigration and migration, military and military conflicts.

“As with many courses in our school district, including health, biology, history and literature, we present information to students in a factual, unbiased manner and have them analyze the information so they are able to make informed decisions and develop educated opinions,” Connell said. “We then encourage our students to express their decisions and opinions in a thoughtful, articulate manner. Mr. Durn developed this project to help students demonstrate this skill.”

But when the project was assigned, some parents publicly took to social media and unleashed controversial opinions.

“There was outrage on Facebook and in the community, and we’re sorry it got to that level,” Allissa Meyer said. “It could have been done in a more effective manner, but at the same time appreciative to have a district that understands.”

Meyer has a daughter at Penns Valley Area High School who was assigned the project.

She said she supports what the teacher is doing but doesn’t necessarily agree with the curriculum.

He’s doing his job that is mandated by the state. I don’t have a problem with him doing his job. What I don’t agree with is state mandates. I think religion is something that should be taught at home.

Allissa Meyer, mother of student in Penns Valley Area class

“He’s doing his job that is mandated by the state,” Meyer said. “I don’t have a problem with him doing his job. What I don’t agree with is state mandates. I think religion is something that should be taught at home. That’s where a child’s foundation starts.”

She added that includes all religions.

Meyer said she emailed Durn about her concerns and met with school administration Friday.

“They’re cooperative and understanding,” she said. “I feel that Penns Valley is supportive of our concerns.”

After speaking with administration, her daughter was allowed to complete an alternative project that still teaches her daughter the principle of the subject with the potential to get a good grade, Meyer said.

“They allowed her to be excused from the project because of religious indifference, and been understanding enough to provide an alternative,” Meyer said.

Connell said Penns Valley Area School District administration encourages parents and students to discuss curriculum concerns with teachers and administrators.

“One of the factors that creates a strong learning environment in our District, is that we have parents and community members who care about the quality of the education we provide,” she said. “In order to continually improve, we not only welcome, but also encourage constructive dialogue about our content and delivery.”

But the push to help change state education mandates doesn’t stop with raising concerns with the district.

Meyer said she hopes more parents and community members raise similar concerns to local lawmakers.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

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