A Utah School Allowed Parents to Opt Kids Out of Black History Month — Then Backtracked

A public charter school in Utah was going to allow parents to opt their children out of learning about Black history but reversed its decision after the public denounced the move.

Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden, Utah only has three Black students, according to the Associated Press. Seventy percent of the students are white. Micah Hirokawa, the director of the school, released a statement on Sunday, Feb. 7 where he expressed his regret for sending opt-out forms to the parents who requested the ability to withdraw their children from Black History Month lessons.

“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,” Hirokawa said. “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.”

He said in the future, the school will handle all parental concerns individually. The statement did not give background on why the parents were concerned about a Black History Month curriculum in the first place, nor did he specify how many attempted to opt out.

“It’s been a tough road as we work to honor and follow each child’s and each adult’s personal journey,” was all the statement said on the matter.

The school is now teaching its full Black History Month curriculum as planned.

“I spoke with the families and expressed the importance of the study and assured them that all the content shared would be ethical and rooted in the state social studies standards,” he said in an email to The New York Times.

Because Maria Montessori Academy is a charter school, it has an independent board and controls its own curriculum. The local Ogden Standard-Examiner previously reported on the incident, citing Hirokawa’s initial Facebook statement that seems to has since been removed.

“Reluctantly, I sent out a letter to our school community explaining that families are allowed to exercise their civil rights to not participate in Black History Month at the school,” he said, going on to discuss his own Asian heritage and his personal disagreement with the parents.

“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.

But, in mentioning his father’s and grandfather’s service as veterans, he added that people had the civil right “to not participate” — drawing a false equivalence between not wanting to die in war and not wanting to learn about the contributions Black Americans have made to the country.

AP reported that the Ogden chapter of the NAACP’s Director Betty Sawyer contacted the school Friday to voice her concern, but the outlet did not go into further detail about what she said.

Munir Shivji, the executive director of the American Montessori Society, released a statement saying he was “appalled and saddened” by the decision, even as it was reversed.

“While the decision has since been rescinded, the fact that the choice was given sets a clear and dangerous precedent that the rich and robust history of Black Americans and other marginalized groups can be ignored,” Shivji said.