Maria Montessori Academy 04

Maria Montessori Academy, a public charter school in North Ogden, is pictured on Tuesday evening, Dec. 17, 2019.

NORTH OGDEN — A decision by Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden to allow parents to opt students out of Black History Month curriculum after receiving multiple requests to do so has ignited a debate over whether parents should have such an option.

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.

The school’s board of directors declined to provide further comment on the decision.

He said the parents’ request “deeply saddens and disappoints me,” adding that he believes everyone — especially children — need to learn to appreciate and love those who are different from them.

“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.

The school’s Black History Month curriculum, Hirokawa told the Standard-Examiner, is being incorporated into its regular social studies and history lessons this month. He said the academy is also making a special effort to celebrate the achievements of African Americans and recognize their role in U.S. history.

According to enrollment data from the Utah State Board of Education, three — or less than 1% — of the school’s 322 students are Black. Approximately 69.6% are white.

The Ogden chapter of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.”

The post has received comments from individuals throughout the community and the country, with some praising Hirokawa’s response, others speaking out in support of parents’ right to opt out and some saying the school’s decision enables racism.

“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,” said Rebecca Bennett, who wrote that she is a parent of students at the school, in a comment on the post. “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.”

One individual whose relationship to the school is unclear, Bonnie Fenn Taylor, wrote in a comment that she is concerned “that parents are being totally lambasted for opting out. They have rights the same as everyone else.”

Alison Miller, who identified herself as a former Montessori educator, said Hirokawa’s message was “disappointing and dangerous.”

“This post reads as a celebration of your own humanity — but all I see is that you are ensuring others have the right to continue to willfully refuse to recognize the humanity of, and to perpetuate harm against, Black people,” Miller wrote.

The Montessori method of instruction was developed by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, in the early 1900s. According to the American Montessori Society, educators using the method “view children as naturally eager and capable of initiating and pursuing learning, guided by their own interests.”

The North Ogden charter school which bases its instruction on the Montessori method has been open for just over a decade. Hirokawa was hired last April after the former director, René Baker, stepped down for reasons the board of directors declined to specify to the Standard-Examiner.

“Maria Montessori Academy is a public charter school that strives to serve all of its students equitably,” Hirokawa said in an email. “MMA regularly communicates with our parents about upcoming projects, lessons, and events, as we believe working closely with families helps ensure a quality educational experience.”

Contact reporter Emily Anderson at eanderson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @emilyreanderson.

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