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Utah school will no longer allow parents to opt students out of Black History Month curriculum

A Utah charter school said it is no longer allowing parents to opt students out of its Black History Month curriculum after drawing backlash for initially giving families the option to do so.

Maria Montessori Academy Director Micah Hirokawa said in a statement shared with The Hill that all school families are now participating in the curriculum and that going forward it would not allow parents to opt out of the lesson plans. 

"Celebrating Black History Month is part of our tradition," Hirokawa said in the statement, which was also posted in the "Utah Montessorians" Facebook group

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"We regret that after receiving requests, an opt-out form was sent out concerning activities planned during this month of celebration," he continued. "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. In the future, we will handle all parental concerns on an individual basis." 

Hirokawa had initially announced the decision to allow students to not participate in the curriculum in a Friday post on the school’s private Facebook page, according to local news outlet the Standard-Examiner

Hirokawa wrote that he “reluctantly” sent a letter to families stating that administrators were allowing them “to exercise their civil rights to not participate in Black History Month at the school.” 

Hirokawa said in the post that “a few families” had asked not to participate in the curriculum, though he declined to tell the Standard-Examiner the exact number of parents who had contacted the school or the reasons they gave for making the request. 

The public charter school director added that the demand from parents “deeply saddens and disappoints me.” 

“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 said. 

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Hirokawa told the Utah news outlet that the school, which serves elementary and middle school students, incorporates Black History Month into social studies and history lessons, with a particular effort this year to highlight the achievements of African American figures in U.S. history. 

Hirokawa, who is of Asian descent and noted that his great-grandparents were sent to a Japanese internment camp, told the outlet that he believes there is “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.”

One parent at the school, Rebecca Bennett, reportedly wrote in a comment on Hirokawa’s Facebook post that she was “appalled to see the form sent out that allows parents to opt their kids out of this and to hear that this is all because some parents have requested it.” 

“I echo others who are disappointed to hear this was even ever made an issue in the first place by some families in our school’s community,” she added. 

The school’s board of directors declined to give the Standard-Examiner additional information on the decision. 

According to the Utah State Board of Education, only three of the 322 students at the academy are Black, with white students making up roughly 70 percent of the school’s population.

Updated on Feb. 7 at 6:55 p.m.