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Utah school rescinds option for parents to opt students out of Black History Month curriculum

Posted at 5:22 PM, Feb 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-06 19:51:02-05

OGDEN, Utah — One Ogden school has walked back its decision that would have allowed parents to opt out of Black History Month curriculum after receiving pushback from the community.

Parents at Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden were sent an email informing them they would have the option to opt their child out of Black History Month lessons and events that were planned throughout the month of February.

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The statement was posted to the school's Facebook page, but it has since been removed from the site.

"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 at the school. "That's what the document says."

Tracey's daughter has been a student at Maria Montessori Academy for seven years.

"This is the first year that anything has ever been discussed about Black History Month," she added.

She said she has been working for years to include Black History Month as part of the school's curriculum.

"I've been pushing for it forever," Tracey said.

Lex Scott, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, said the decision to allow parents to opt out is appalling.

"You can't opt out of black history. Black history is American history," Scott said. "So, it absolutely comes from a place of racism and ignorance."

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In a follow-up email sent to parents Thursday, the school's director, Micah Hirokawa, said he is deeply saddened and disappointed that parents would opt their children out of Black History Month curriculum. In the email, Hirokawa added that as an Asian American whose great-grandparents were thrown into internment camps, he values teaching students about "the mistreatment, challenges, and obstacles that people in our nation have had to endure."

"It's just heartbreaking that anyone who runs a school would believe that it is okay in any way, that it is acceptable in any way, to try to ban talking about black history," Scott added.

Hirokawa was hired to replace the school's former director in April of 2020. Tracey said she believes he has made a genuine effort to include Black History Month lessons as part of the school's curriculum.

"I just knew that he was as surprised as I was that probably a lot of families sent in the paperwork to not participate," Tracey said.

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Scott added that the ability for parents to opt out shouldn't have been an option in the first place.

"He needs to learn from this, he needs to apologize, and make sure that every child in that school learns about black history," she said.

Utah law does allow parents to opt their children out of portions of curriculum based on religious beliefs, or right of conscience. But a representative with the Utah State Board of Education clarified with 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."

Hirokawa sent another email to parents Saturday afternoon apologizing for the option to opt out and has rescinded that offer. The email states that "at this time no families are opting out of our planned activities and we have removed this option."