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A Utah School Made Black History Month Optional. Then It Reversed Itself.

A public charter school in Utah allowed parents to withdraw their children from a Black History Month curriculum, but reversed its decision after a public outcry and meeting with parents to address their concerns.

Micah Hirokawa, the director of Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden, an elementary and junior high school about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, said in a statement on Sunday that the school had, with “regret,” sent an opt-out form to parents who had requested the option.

He did not give details about the parents’ concerns or say how many had tried to withdraw their children from the events and activities that the school had scheduled as part of the monthlong program. But he said in the statement, which was published on the Utah Montessorians Facebook page, that the episode was “alarming” and that the school had been trying to “change hearts and minds with grace and courtesy.”

He said that the families “that initially had questions and concerns have willingly come to the table to resolve any differences” and that “at this time no families are opting out of our planned activities and we have removed this option.”

“It’s been a tough road as we work to honor and follow each child’s and each adult’s personal journey,” he said.

Mr. Hirokawa declined to respond to further questions on Monday, including how many parents had sought the option and why. But he said the school now had full participation in its Black History Month activities after he talked with the parents.

“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.

School board members did not reply to email messages seeking comment.

North Ogden has a population of more than 20,500 people, more than 94 percent of whom are white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Black residents account for less than 0.8 percent of the population.

Only three of the Maria Montessori Academy’s 322 students are Black and 70 percent are white, The Associated Press reported, citing data from the Utah State Board of Education.

Maria Montessori Academy is publicly funded, but as a charter school, it has an independent board and controls its own curriculum.

The Standard-Examiner of Ogden, Utah, reported the school’s decision on Friday. Mr. Hirokawa initially said in a Facebook post, which appears to have been removed, that he “reluctantly” sent a letter to parents explaining that “families are allowed to exercise their civil rights to not participate in Black History Month at the school.”

It was not clear whether the objections to the school’s Black History Month events had to do with activities highlighting Black history, or the way that history was being taught.

Mr. Hirokawa’s announcement caught the attention of the Ogden chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., whose director, Betty Sawyer, contacted the school on Saturday about the decision to make Black History Month curriculum optional, The A.P. reported.

Munir Shivji, the executive director of the American Montessori Society, said in a statement that he was “appalled and saddened” by the school’s decision to allow parents to opt their children out of Black History Month lessons and activities.

“While the decision has since been rescinded,” he said, “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.”

Duna Strachan, the director of the Soaring Wings International Montessori School in Park City, Utah, wrote on the Utah Montessorians Facebook page that Montessori schools were “committed to teaching Black history and the practices of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in our schools.”

She said in an interview on Monday that she “wanted to point out as quickly as possible that Montessori is always about including everyone.”

She said her school had been updating its Black history curriculum, which is taught every year and not just during Black History Month, especially after 2020, when “there has been so much focus on being culturally sensitive.”

Representative Blake D. Moore, a Republican who represents North Ogden in Congress, said in a statement on Monday that he shared the “disappointment and sadness” that some had opted out of the curriculum but was “heartened” the school had reversed its decision.

“While I have not reviewed the curriculum myself, I strongly believe we cannot learn American history without learning Black history,” he said.

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