Sullivan BOE hears concerns about Islamic indoctrination, adopts textbooks

Rick Wagner • Apr 3, 2019 at 9:59 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board on Tuesday voted 4-2 with one absent to approve a blanket five-year textbook adoption including a seventh grade social studies textbook. Board member Jane Thomas and four public commenters opposed the text because of its treatment of Islam and Christianity.

Chairman Michael Hughes, Vice Chairman Randall Jones, Randall Gilmore and Matthew Spivey voted for the adoption before a full meeting room of more than 100 people. Thomas and Paul Robinson voted against the adoption, while Mark Ireson was absent. The meeting at times took on the aura of a church service or tent revival, with audience members cheering on the commenters quoting the Bible and the Koran, and they also cheered Thomas. Spivey, however, said the bottom line is the system is “not stating a preference for any religion.”

“Facts about what people believe is not indoctrination. It is not proselytizing,” Spivey said.

“Learning about culture and history is not indoctrination. It is facts,” Spivey said. “Ignoring facts is ignorance.”

Gilmore said that Christian missionaries must learn about the beliefs of other religions to do their work “to spread the fragrance of Christ.”


“My issue is with the truth of that statement” that Allah and God are the same entity, commenter Jim Jordan of Bristol told the board. “Christians believe not only is Jesus the son of God, he is God.” However, Jordan said the school system must be respectful of all religions.

Vicki Leslie of Kingsport suggested allowing the use of other texts and resources that do not contradict the religious beliefs of parents and students, although Board of Education Chairman Michael Hughes said the school system must adopt a textbook that meets state standards, which all on the approved list do. The system could get waivers for ones not on the list, with approval of the state. 

“Whether people like it or not, we were founded as a Christian nation,” Bart Fowler of Kingsport said. “We have given this country away and given it away.” He said the Islamic prophet Mohammad spoke of one God the same as the God of Abraham and Jesus and that Muslims view Jesus as a prophet.

“It is not a school’s job to teach faith to children,” said Richard Penkoski, who said he moved from West Virginia to Sullivan County in December because of what he called a pro-Islamic Pearson social studies textbook. “If you don’t accept Jesus Christ, you are going to hell.” He also said the Koran calls for converting or killing non-Muslims. “Islam is a political ideology masquerading as a religion,” Penkoski said.


The book in question is the seventh grade social studies book by McGraw-Hill called “World,” which was the overwhelming choice of teachers on the textbook committee but has not been formally chosen and won’t be until after a public comment session from 4 to 6 p.m. April 15 at the Akard Service Center in the old Akard Elementary School near Bristol. An article in Sunday’s Times News incorrectly gave the name of the seventh grade text Thomas questions as “My World” by Pearson, but that new seventh grade book is not on the Tennessee-approved texts on the blanket adoption list for the 2019-2024 cycle.

“The United States of America was established on Biblical principles, the rule of law and the Ten Commandments,” retired teacher Thomas said, arguing that no comparative religion should be taught at the seventh grade level because it confuses students she said are not ready for that and that the text amounts to Islamic indoctrination. “We should be teaching reading, writing and arithmetic.”

Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski explained that the board by law had to adopt textbooks by April 15 and that the blanket adoption served that purpose. Even after the system chooses a final seventh grade book, she said the system is not bound to buy it.

Thomas said the McGraw-Hill book, like the current Pearson “My World” text meeting the old social studies standards, in her mind is pro-Islam. But Rafalowski and Gilmore, a former history teacher in the system and head of King University’s teacher education program, said the McGraw-Hill book deals in facts about faith and is not an effort to convert people to Islam, Christianity or any other religion.



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