Islam school curriculum called into question again
LENOIR CITY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Many parents have complained about it, others have defended it, but now a national organization wants to know what students across the state are learning about Islam and they want to see the curriculum.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian advocacy non-profit, sent public records requests to all 146 Tennessee school districts, asking for records of communications, documents and lesson plans regarding their world religion curriculum -- specifically mentioning Islam.

But a lawyer representing 80 districts in this matter, Chuck Cagle, said the request isn't even valid. He cited state law, which says certain public records are only made available for Tennessee citizens. He noted ACLJ is not a Tennessee business.

"People that are asking above and beyond the law, we just don't have time for that. The business that we're in is teaching students," said Jason Vance, director of schools for Loudon County.

Loudon County Schools is one of the districts that denied ACLJ's open records request.

Vance said if parents have concerns, all of his educators are more than willing to explain the curriculum.

"We're not trying to teach a kid how to become a Muslim, or how to become a Buddhist, or any other religion," he said.

When it comes to her students, seventh grade social studies teacher Erin McNish teaches by the book. She said the state standards are laid out for her in the textbook.

"Here's what probably a lot of people are concerned about," McNish said, pointing to the textbook syllabus. "Trace the origins of Islam and the life and teachings of Muhammad," she read. "But within that you also have to make the connection to Judaism and Christianity," she added.

To the North Middle School teacher, the curriculum is to give students a better understanding of world culture and history.

"We are not teaching them religion. We are teaching about religion," McNish said.

McNish said she's been teaching this curriculum for a decade and this is the first year she's ever had a parent express concerns. They seem to have a better understanding of the curriculum after she speaks with them, McNish added.

Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity will also come up in the classroom, but according to McNish, for this seventh grade curriculum, Islam comes first chronologically.

She said she'll keep answering parents' questions on the curriculum since more education means a better understanding.