Last year I was approached by a set of parents who had students in a 6th grade Wake county school. These parents were unable to obtain detailed documentation on a particular lesson given in their child’s classroom. The lesson was on Islam.
I emailed the teacher and the principal at the school in question. I was told by the principal that I had to direct my request to Wake County Schools communications department. I then put in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Wake County Schools (WCPSS).
I asked for the following items in both the request to the school and WCPSS:
1. I would like to request a copy of the “flip book” on the 5 Pillars of Islam as outlined in the email newsletter sent to parents.
2. I would like to request the syllabus or course outline for this section of study on Islam.
3. I would also like copies of the corresponding units on Christianity and Judaism and any additional materials, such as a ‘flip book’, that may accompany them.
The request was slow-walked; sitting for nearly a year after multiple promptings for the requested information.
When I say ‘slow-walked’, one can see the delay as I lay out the timeline.
The initial email to the school itself went out February 13th, 2015.
By the 19th of February, I had submitted my FOIA to WCPSS. I received nothing back as of September 2015. I waited through the holidays. Still nothing.
I had to engage legal counsel to resolve the delay and a letter was sent by counsel on January 12, 2016. On February 2nd a response was received from WCPSS’s legal counsel. The response I received wasn’t what I had asked for.
Instead of providing the information requested, I was told that taxpayer funded materials were not public record.
I was told that “There is no other “syllabus,” “course outline,” or similar document for this course content.” No template for these flip-books? Are we to assume the students just made them up?
When I pressed for a template that was used or source of the lesson materials, I was given the generic examples that the NC Department of Public Instruction puts out accompanied by links to ‘Unpacking the Common Core Standards’. I will address that second item shortly.
Here is the response sent by the WCPSS legal counsel:
I have followed up with staff and can respond as follows to your client’s public records request to the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS). For convenience, I have attached your letter and enclosures on this matter. I hope you will forgive the informality of an email response, but this format allows me to embed hyperlinks to certain responsive documents.
REQUEST # 1: “I would like to request a copy of the ‘flip book’ on the 5 Pillars of Islam as outlined in the email newsletter sent to parents.”
RESPONSE: The “flip book” referenced in the parent newsletter from a West Lake Middle School teacher was an in-class student assignment, not a public record. Students make their own “flip books” by folding blank 8 1Ž2 by 11” sheets of paper and adding content. All student flip books on the 5 Pillars of Islam were collected and returned to students and are no longer in the possession of West Lake Middle School staff. When they were in the possession of school staff, the flip books were protected as confidential student records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. 1232g, and its implementing regulations.
REQUEST #2: “I would like to request the syllabus or course outline for this section of study on Islam.”
RESPONSE: The teacher followed the Department of Public Instruction (“DPI”) standard curriculum for 6th grade social studies in presenting the content in question. Click these links to access the 6th Grade Social Studies Standards unpacked and the 6th Grade Social Studies Standards and do a control+F search for “Islam.” There is no other “syllabus,” “course outline,” or similar document for this course content.
REQUEST #3: “I would also like copies of the corresponding units on Christianity and Judaism and any additional materials, such as a ‘flip book,’ that may accompany them.”
RESPONSE: Curriculum standards addressing Christianity and Judaism are also available via the DPI links above (do a control+F search for “Christianity” or “Judaism”). In addition, 6th grade social studies content on Christianity and Judaism can be found in the textbook Eastern World, published by Holt McDougal in 2010. This book is copyrighted. A copy is available for inspection, by appointment, at the Wake County Public School System’s Communications Department.
Our apologies to your client for the delay in processing this request. Please feel free to call me if there is anything else you would like to discuss.
In response to my second question, I was directed to the 6th Grade Social Studies Standards unpacked and the 6th Grade Social Studies Standards. For the uninitiated, these documents support the Common Core Standards and were allegedly created by WCPSS.
Upon inspecting them, I found that the main source for these lessons was coming from a website called “ReligionFacts.com”, which has a section on Islam.
What I found disturbing about this website is it is registered anonymously and the author refuses to identify themselves or their credentials. Read the “About” page to see what I am referring to.
Even more disturbing on the “About” page was a series of disclaimers about the content. In part, these disclaimers claim a “major source” was Wikipedia, which is notorious for being incomplete, inaccurate and has the ability to be edited by anyone with internet access.
There’s also this line found in the “About” page’s section on citing ReligionFacts.com as a source:
“So I do not claim ReligionFacts has inherent authority and you shouldn’t treat it like it does.”
ReligionFacts.com is not an authority, yet it is the most prevalent source listed in the Unpacking Documents.
ReligionFacts.com’s “About” page asserts that the sources used to create their summaries are based on multiple other sources which are verifiable.
Did anyone at WCPSS actually verify them? One would hope, but if so, why not use the original sources of information instead of a second-hand, anonymously run and registered website?
Upon searching the State Board of Education’s website, I could locate no policies dealing with the vetting of resources such as this one. Parents, this means it is totally up to you do vet what your child is being given in the classroom. That means not giving up on materials you requested when the school throws the Heisman pose at you.