Wellesley field trip to mosque causes controversy
WELLESLEY, Mass. -- A Wellesley school superintendent apologized for a class trip controversy.
Students were taken to a mosque last spring, where five boys participated in a prayer service at the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Roxbury.
The superintendent says the trip was for part of a sixth grade social studies class called "Enduring Beliefs in the World Today." The course includes lessons on different world religions.
A video, put together by the group Americans for Peace and Tolerance, recently emerged online of the trip. One of the female chaperones recorded video of the service, and she claims all the girls and female chaperones on the trip were asked to leave the prayer area and boys were then asked to join in the prayer.
"They just walked forward got in the line. No one told them to. No one asked them to. You know how little boys are," said mosque member David Curran.
Another female chaperone on that trip spoke out to 7NEWS on Friday and said that other chaperone's claim was not true.
"There's that prayer area where you see them praying was men. If you wanted to pray and were female, you could go over to the female area, but the rest of us just stayed right there. They didn't ask us...no one had to leave, and no one was asked to pray. Ever. I think it was like if someone wanted to, they weren't gonna stop you, but no one was encouraged. No one was asked," said Dahri Myers, a field trip chaperone.
One woman said she was so concerned about the field trip that she wouldn't let her child go.
"We actually decided not to let our son go last year. We were not comfortable with the information the school gave us about the benefactors and some of the background on the mosque. I think that really hasn't come up in a lot of the showings," said Sarah Preston, a parent.
Dr. Charles Jacobs, of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, wondered why the school would bring students to such a controversial mosque. He has opposed the mosque for five years, claiming that it has indirect ties to terrorism.
"The school's apology is not nearly enough. The school needs not to send anybody else to that mosque," said Jacobs.
Some parents are criticizing school officials for choosing the controversial mosque.
"I think it was probably an ill-conceived event, but the curriculum itself certainly is excellent and worthwhile," said Sarah Preston, a Wellesley parent.
Superintendent Bella Wong says the trip was designed to allow students to visit a place of worship, not participate in a religious practice.
In a letter to parents, Wong wrote:
"It was not the intent for the students to be able to participate in any of the religious practices. The fact that any students were allowed to do so in this case was an error. I extend my sincere apologies for the error that occurred and regret the offense it may have caused."
The president of the Muslim American Society of Boston, Bilal Kaleem, said the cultural center hosts numerous tours and children are not invited to take part in the prayer services, but he adds if people wish to participate, they are allowed.
"If someone asks to take part in the worship or asks to take part in any of the activities, this is a public space," said Kaleem.
Kaleem wonders why this video was released four months after the class trip.
"Clear that they have an agenda because it's been four months, no one from the entire students and their parents ever contacted the school," said Kaleem.
The students also visited a synagogue and went to see a gospel group sing as part of the social studies class.
Do you think it was appropriate to allow middle school students to participate in a mosque prayer service? VOTE HERE
(Copyright (c) 2010 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)