BRISTOL, Tenn. — More than 100 people turned out early Friday for a protest across from Vance Middle School, but only two families have children in the city school system.
The 109 participants, which included grandparents, parents from other school systems, parents who home-school their children and other concerned citizens, gathered to protest what they believe to be the teaching of Islam at the school.
Seventh-graders at Vance do study Islam and go over the five pillars of faith in a historical context and the curriculum also covers the foundations of Christianity and Judaism, school officials said. It’s part of the controversial Common Core curriculum, which is state-mandated.
According to Amy Scott, principal at Vance Middle School, administrators have taken great pains to ensure that all three religions are covered equally.
Protest organizer Patty Kinkead said she knew that the school system could not make changes to the Common Core curriculum, but the purpose of the demonstration was to raise awareness about what she believes is being taught.
“If we can enlighten two parents to what’s being taught then this has been a successful day,” Kinkead said. “We are hoping to create a spark so that other people will want to protest Common Core across the state. The protest is not about Vance Middle School or the teachers; it’s about Common Core and the teaching of Islam in the curriculum. ”
Kinkead removed her fourth-grader from the city school division and is home-schooling him because she’s opposed to Common Core.
Scott said that although she was not a fan of the protest being held so close to the school, she believes that people have the right to protest.
“Schools in general have been off limits for these types of events and the reasoning behind that is safety-related,” she said. “Today, we knowingly and willing compromised our kids safety. There was a difference in their day, a difference in the level of safety we provide and we take that seriously. That’s my main concern about them choosing a middle school to make this stand.”
She added, “It’s fine to have an opinion and want to share that opinion. I just don’t feel good about having to plan around this event. We’re trained to notice things and prepare for things, but the time and place of the protest is the part I don’t like.”
The protest was at 6:45 a.m., before the start of school. Police officers were present.
Amy Riffey, who has a fourth-grader and a senior in the city school system, was part of the protest.
“We are protesting in the most congested area of our school system so that the most parents can see what we’re standing for,” Riffey said. “I am against Islam being taught in schools.”
Even though she spoke to Kinkead about the safety issues surrounding the protest, Scott said some good did result from the event.
“I have looked for a while at where the silver lining might be in all of this and yesterday I found one,” she said. “When a few of our teachers came under attack by this organization we began to see the silver lining. Our little school community came together and circled the wagons. Parents reached out to us by phone call and email thanking us for what we do and validating our teachers. That was a precious thing and we’ve grown from that.”
She added that she’s received reports of positive conversations concerning the protest.
“This morning, I have had some reports of very appropriate conversations from kid to kid and kid to adult,” she said. “We have worked with our students on understanding differences of opinions and today our students got to see that in action. What a great teaching opportunity for us. We seize those moments when we get them.”
Director of Schools Gary Lilly said he was worried about people being distracted while students were being dropped off, but he felt that people were careful. He also said he is available to parents who want to speak to him about any concerns regarding the curriculum.
“We want to talk to the parents of our students who have concerns,” he said. “We want them to know what we’re teaching and how we’re teaching, but largely we’ve not had many parents express concerns. If a parent wants to meet with me I’m happy to do so. They can call the central office at 423-652-9451 to make an appointment.”