Utah School Reverses Decision to Let Parents Opt Their Kids Out of Black History Month Curriculum

“We are excited to celebrate the rich content of Black History Month at our school,” Maria Montessori Academy said in a statement

Maria Montessori Academy
Maria Montessori Academy. Photo: Google Maps

A Utah charter school that came under fire for giving parents the option of opting their children out of Black History Month lessons has reversed its decision amid backlash.

Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden raised eyebrows on Friday when director Micah Hirokawa issued a since-deleted statement on Facebook indicating "a few families" had requested their children not participate, the Standard-Examiner reported.

Though Hirokawa said the situation "deeply sadden[ed] and disappoint[ed]" him, he "reluctantly" sent out a link to a Google document that parents could fill out if they wanted to opt out, according to NBC affiliate KSL.

By Saturday, however, the tuition-free charter school serving elementary and junior high students had backtracked on its decision, and issued a statement that said the choice of opting out had been removed.

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"Celebrating Black History Month is part of our tradition. We regret that after receiving requests, an opt-out form was sent out concerning activities planned during this month of celebration," the statement read. "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."

It also noted that in the future, all parental concerns would be handled on an individual basis.

"We are excited to celebrate the rich content of Black History Month at our school," the statement concluded.

North Ogden is 94.2 percent white, according to the US Census Bureau, and of the 322 students enrolled at Maria Montessori Academy this year, just three are Black and 69.6 percent are white, the Standard-Examiner reported.

In Hirokawa's initial statement, he reportedly wrote that he sees great value in teaching children about the difficult histories people of color have faced, especially because his own grand-grandparents were forced into an internment camp.

"I am deeply troubled that in today's society, not just in our community but throughout the Nation, there are those today who still continue to exercise their civil rights to not participate in events like Black History Month," he wrote, according to KSL. "I believe that all of us, and especially our children, need to participate in Black History Month and in the process learn how to appreciate and love those who may be different than us."

The Facebook statement was met with criticism from both parents and Betty Sawyer, head of the Ogden NAACP chapter, who said she contacted the school on Saturday.

"Authentically teaching Black History as American History allows our youth to develop the social and emotional skills necessary to be inclusive of others and cultivates a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race," Sawyer said in a statement to USA Today. "While this decision was recently reversed, we find its very consideration troubling."

One parent, meanwhile, reportedly commented on the Facebook post that they were "appalled" to see the form, and "disappointed to hear this was even ever made an issue in the first place by some families in our school's community."

Hirokawa later told the Standard-Examiner that the school will maintain its current Black History Month curriculum, which is based on state social studies standards. He declined to specify just how many parents requested an opt-out, and what their reasons were for doing so.

Black History Month's origins being with Negro History Week, which Harvard historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland developed in 1926. It was made a national holiday in 1976, when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month and it became the month-long celebration we know today.

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