A charter school in Utah has become the focus of controversy after parents questioned the necessity of their children studying its Black History Month curriculum and administrators allowed them to opt-out. The parents have since dropped that request, but a debate has emerged over whether parents should have that option.
The Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner reported that a school administrator posted to the school’s Facebook page that there were families that requested not to participate in Black History Month-related lessons. Micah Hirokawa, director of the Maria Montessori School in Ogden, responded to an email from the newspaper but did not reveal how many families made the request or their reasons for it.
In the post, Hirokawa said: “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.”
But he also said the request “deeply saddens and disappoints me,” advocating for diversity in educational curricula. “We should not shield our children from the history of our Nation, the mistreatment of its African American citizens, and the bravery of civil rights leaders, but should educate them about it,” Hirokawa wrote.
According to Utah law, parents legally have the option of opting out of any school activity, whether it is a class, lunch, or any other function that would interfere with their religious beliefs, but not core studies that include U.S. history and racial topics, the Washington Post reported.. An opt-out form was sent to the parents who requested it. Of the school’s 322 students, only three are Black and 69.6 percentare white, the Standard-Examiner said.
But Hirokawa, who said his great-grandparents were placed in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, says it is necessary to teach children about America’s history of racism.
"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. “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."
After the forms were sent to parents, members of the Ogden community were incensed, asking why students should be held from learning such an important part of American history.
"I am really surprised and appalled that a parent would want to have their child opt-out," Salt Lake City NAACP President Jeanetta Williams told local station KSL. "This is something that should be taught year-round and not just in February.
“If they want to opt-out, then perhaps the best thing they should do is home-school their children,” she said.
Utah Jazz guard Donavan Mitchell became vocal about the situation and tweeted his displeasure that parents wanted to skip learning about Black history.
Also, in a statement, Republican Rep. Blake Moore, whose congressional district includes the area, criticized the notion of having students avoid the curriculum in school.
“It is crucial to embrace our shared history,” Moore said in a statement. “Imagine if we had to teach Utah history without highlighting the persecution of early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who led the migration west.”
On Saturday, apparently, after the backlash, parents had a change of heart, and after speaking with the school, they are no longer opting out, and the school is removing the option to do so.
“We are grateful that families that initially had questions and concerns have willingly come to the table to resolve any differences,’ a school statement reads. “The Maria Montessori Academy Board of Directors and the School Director have one primary goal — providing a quality and equitable education to all of our students.”
However, the Ogden NAACP is inviting the school’s administrators to participate in further dialogue about the circumstance.
“Given the tumultuous state of race relations in our country, it is now more vital than ever that children are given ample opportunities to learn the authentic history of our nation, not “feel good” versions,” the chapter said in a statement.
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