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Whitestone mom says history text favors Islam

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A Whitestone mother is considering pulling her third-grade daughter out of PS 193 and enrolling her in a private yeshiva after discovering earlier this month that she learned about Islam in school.

Stacey Schehr said she is concerned that her daughter, Harleigh, has been studying religions in grade school and more specifically that she believes her social studies textbook contains more discussion of the Muslim faith than any other religion.

“I know curriculums have changed since I was in school, but we didn’t learn about religion in public school. There’s supposed to be a separation of church and state,” she said. “My daughter came home crying because she was hearing about Islam in class and everything she hears about Muslims is on the news about terrorism.”

Schehr, a self-described “rabid right-wing Republican” with Catholic and Jewish roots, contends that the textbook, “Social Studies New York City: World Communities Now and Long Ago,” discusses Ramadan and Muhammad, while other religion’s traditions receive less attention.

“They should take religions out of the textbook and out of schools,” she said. “If they do away with the First Amendment and decide to teach religion anyway, they should teach them all equally.”

She took her case to School District 25 Family Advocate Pedro Rivera and the city Department of Education, and met with her daughter’s teacher, Diane Lemandola, and PS 193 Principal Joyce Bush.

Rivera, Bush and Lemandola directed all press inquiries to the DOE, which did not respond to requests for comment.

Schehr has not made any headway so far with the DOE, but City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) are looking into the issue.

Halloran said he believes a fair overview of world religions should be taught at an early age to foster understanding, but that there should not be a trend in schools of emphasizing one religion over others.

“The best thing for everyone to do is to look at the issue .... and if it’s not a pattern then we can just let people know we’re aware of it and make sure a pattern doesn’t emerge,” he said.

Stavisky, a former history teacher, said the book is a part of the citywide third-grade curriculum and that Schehr should take her concerns to city education officials, who can decide whether to make any changes.

“How can you teach the Crusades and not mention the word ‘Islam’ ... any more than you can teach the Holocaust without mentioning Judaism?” she asked.

After speaking with Bush and viewing ´╗┐the pages of the text Schehr criticized, Stavisky concluded “there’s nothing terribly outrageous” there.

Justin Joseph, a spokesman for the book’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said complaints like Schehr’s are not unheard of.

“All the major educational materials companies have had to deal with similar claims, and though the charges are quickly dismissed once the facts are examined, new claims do arise,” he said via e-mail.

Schehr has also been in touch with Pamela Geller, a Manhattan blogger, author and co-founder of the Stop Islamization of America group, which has advocated against teaching Islam in public schools. Geller said she supports Schehr’s efforts.

“If you want your child to have religious training, send them to a religious school,” Geller said. “People should not be forced to send their children to private school when we pay such exorbitant taxes. That’s what they’re doing is forcing people out of public schools.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 6:18 pm, October 10, 2011
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