If you need more reasons why Black history should be taught year-round instead of being crammed into a single month, here’s yet another—as first reported by the Standard-Examiner, a few parents in the overwhelmingly white town of North Ogden, Utah were so incensed their children would learn about Black history this month they reportedly asked to opt them out of those lessons. In a sign perhaps that school leaders would also benefit from some Black history lessons, the director of Maria Montessori Academy, the school in question, initially allowed these parents to, in his poorly chosen words, “exercise their civil rights to not participate in Black History Month” before backtracking.
More, via the Standard-Examiner, emphasis my own:
According to a post made to the school’s Facebook page by Director Micah Hirokawa on Friday, “a few families” asked not to participate in instruction related to Black History Month, which is celebrated annually during February. In an email to the Standard-Examiner, Hirokawa declined to disclose how many parents chose not to allow their children to learn about the topic and did not clarify their reason for doing so.
“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,” Hirokawa wrote in the post.
Do parents at the public charter school even have the right to pull their kids out of these history lessons? It doesn’t seem like it. Via the Washington Post:
Utah law allows public school students to be granted a waiver from instruction that would infringe on their religious beliefs, or “right of conscience.” But students cannot be exempted from the core social sciences curriculum that “include a focus on U.S. history, inequality and race relations,” a spokesperson from the State Board of Education told KSTU.
To make matters even stranger, Hirokawa emphasized in the since-deleted Facebook post that he personally did not agree with the parents who did not want their children to learn about the history of Black people in the United States, noting that his great-grandparents were sent to internment camps during World War II. Again, via the Standard Examiner:
Hirokawa, who is of Asian descent, said in the post that the parents’ decision goes against his personal beliefs. As someone whose great-grandparents were sent to a Japanese internment camp, he continued, “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.”
Citing his father’s and grandfather’s sacrifices as veterans, he added “the right to not participate has equal power in the right to participate.”
Some parents were upset by the school’s decision. “I 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,” wrote Rebecca Bennett in a comment to the initial Facebook post, according to the Standard-Examiner. Bennett added, “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.”
Apparently, the backlash has been so severe that not only did Maria Montessori Academy rescind their initial decision, they have now also posted a “Public Statement Regarding Black History Month” that pops up whenever a visitor goes to their website. The statement reads, in part, “We regret that after receiving requests, an opt-out form was sent out concerning activities planned during this month of celebration.” It continues:
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. We are excited to celebrate the rich content of Black History Month at our school.
I for one am happy to know that all the kids of Maria Montessori Academy will now be exposed to what will surely be instructive and not at all whitewashed lessons on the power of protest.