A Utah school has walked back its decision to offer parents the option to opt their children out of Black History Month instruction after facing backlash from the community.
Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden initially sent parents an email on Feb. 5 letting them know they would have the option to opt their children out of the Black History Month lessons planned for the month.
But following backlash, school director Micah Hirokawa told the Standard-Examiner in an email on Saturday, Feb. 6, that parents would not longer have the option to do so.
“We regret that after receiving requests, an opt-out form was sent out concerning activities planned during this month of celebration,” reads a statement prepared by Hirokawa and the school’s board of directors. “We are grateful that families that initially had questions and concerns have willingly come to the table to resolve any differences and at this time no families are opting out of our planned activities and we have removed this option.”
Hirokawa did not say how many parents had opted to remove their children from the lessons, and said the school will handle parental concerns on an individual basis in the future.
He said the school will carry on with the Black History Month instruction as planned and that the lessons will be based on state social studies standards.
In recognition of Black History Month, the school plans to incorporate the achievements of African-Americans and their role in U.S. history into the school’s social studies instruction.
“We are excited to celebrate the rich content of Black History Month at our school,” Hirokawa and the board of directors said in a statement.
In response to the school’s initial decision to allow parents to opt their children out of the instruction, community members accused school leaders of enabling racism.
“You can’t opt out of black history. Black history is American history,” said Lexi Scott, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah. “So, it absolutely comes from a place of racism and ignorance.”
The head of the Ogden chapter of the NAACP, Betty Sawyer, also made contact with the school Saturday morning about its decision to give parents the option to make the Black History Month instruction optional.
“I’m not exactly sure why anyone thought that they had to send out a document saying, you know, ‘I don’t want my child to participate in this activity,'” said Jaime Tracey, a parent of a student who has attended the school for seven years. “That’s what the document says.”
Tracey added that this is the first year the school has talked about a Black History Month curriculum, but that she had bene pushing for it for years. She speculated that Hirokawa was surprised by how many families submitted the paperwork to have their children removed from the instruction.
Nearly 70 percent of the 322 students attending Maria Montessori Academy are white, while just three Black students go to the school.
In a Friday Facebook post, Hirokawa said he was disappointed by parents’ requests to have their children removed from the instruction and that he had “reluctantly” sent the initial email offering the option.
Hirokawa, a man of Asian descent whose great-grandparents were sent to Japanese internment camps, wrote, “I personally see a lot of value in teaching our children about the mistreatment, challenges, and obstacles that people of color in our Nation have had to endure and what we can do today to ensure that such wrongs don’t continue.”
He said the school offered the option because parents should be able to exercise their civil rights by having choice to remove their students from the Black History Month instruction.
Under Utah law, parents can opt their children out of portions of curricula based on religious beliefs, or right of conscience. However a representative with the Utah State Board of Education clarified with local station Fox 13 that “no student can be waived from state Social Studies Standards which include a focus on U.S. history, inequality and race relations.”