With the nation already on edge after the attacks in California, a teacher's lesson on Islam in Virginia's Bible Belt sparked an angry meeting of outraged parents that mushroomed into a national denunciation of the educator in the form of thousands of angry emails and social media postings.
As a result, an estimated 10,000 students in Augusta County's public school system got a one-day jump on the Christmas break as a precaution. The cancellation of classes Friday also wiped out a holiday concert and weekend sporting events.
Some of the tens of thousands of emails and Facebook posts "posed a risk of harm to school officials" and threatened protests, Superintendent Eric Bond said in a message to parents and employees Friday.
Augusta County Sheriff Randall D. Fisher said the emails slowly began arriving, but picked up in volume and vitriol after a national conservative radio personality discussed the lesson.
"They started becoming very threatening, very profane," he said.
Fisher said security has been assigned to Bond, the school's principal and teacher Cheryl LaPorte, who created the lesson. LaPorte is worried about herself and her family, Fisher said.
The school closings came one week after the teacher gave Riverheads High School students an assignment that involved writing a statement in Arabic - the Shahada, a profession of faith recited in Muslims' daily prayers.
The statement translated to: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."