'Racism is taught': Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert call out Utah school allowing Black History Month opt-outs

Cassandra Negley
·5 min read

Utah Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert called out a Utah charter school that initially decided it would allow parents to opt their students out of Black History Month curriculum. The school’s leadership changed course after backlash over the weekend, but is still feeling the heat from the public.

The Jazz organization has continued its focus on social and racial justice issues through scholarship funds and awareness. It unveiled its Black History Month shirts last week that read “strong together.”

Utah school wanted to allow opt-outs of Black History Month

North Ogden Montessori charter school in Utah said last week it would allow parents to opt out of the curriculum after “a few families” asked not to participate in the yearly teachings, per the local Standard-Examiner. The post has been deleted.

“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,” Director Micah Hirokawa, who is of Asian descent, said in the Facebook page announcement.

He said he it “deeply saddens and disappoints me” to allow the opt-outs.

“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 is about 45 minutes north of Salt Lake City and is 94 percent white, per Census data. Utah State Board of Education data shows only three of the 322 students are Black. Nearly 70 percent of the students are white in the school covering preschool through ninth grade.

Mitchell, Gobert call out charter school for racism

Donovan Mitchell points next to Rudy Gobert.
Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert called out a Utah school allowing parents to opt their children out of Black History Month teachings. (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

In separate tweets on Sunday, both Mitchell and Gobert slammed the decision to allow parents the option of keeping their children from learning about Black history.

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“I don’t know where to start,” Mitchell, 24, wrote. “Racism is taught... and the fact that kids are being told by their own parents to not learn about black history and black excellence is sickening and sad!! And this is just part of the problem.....smh.”

Mitchell joined the NBA’s newly formed Social Justice Coalition late last year and received the Offseason NBA Cares Community Assist Award for his work on social justice. It included a $12 million pledge to Greenwich Country Day School in Connecticut where Mitchell attended and his mother worked for a decade. It was the largest donation in the school’s history.

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“Meanwhile kids can’t be opted out of the many lies that they are being “taught” the rest of the year!” Gobert, 28, wrote.

They were far from the only people pushing back, but were certainly some of the most prominent in the state given their athlete status. U.S. Rep. Blake D. Moore, a Republican representing the district including North Ogden, put out a statement against the decision.

I strongly believe we cannot learn American history without learning Black history. Imagine if we had to teach Utah history without highlighting the persecution of early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who led the migration west.”

Utah school reverses course, but damage is done

The school announced Saturday in a Facebook post by Hirokawa that it would no longer allow parents to opt their students out of the curriculum.

“Celebrating Black History Month is part of our tradition. We regret that after receiving requests, an opt-out form was sent out concerning activities planned during this month of celebration. 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.”

But the damage had already been done in initially allowing parents to ignore parts of history because, as the Salt Lake City NAACP said in a statement, they might have been uncomfortable with parts of it. Ogden NAACP president Betty Sawyer gave a longer statement to Emily Anderson of the Standard-Examiner on Sunday.

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It read in part:

“Authentically teaching Black history as American history allows our youth to develop the social and emotional skills necessary to be inclusive of others and cultivates a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race. While this decision was recently reversed, we find its very consideration troubling.”

Contributions from historical figures who are not prominent white men are often overlooked or misrepresented in educational textbooks and curriculum around the nation. Black History Month is an opportunity to begin to rectify that and focus on the contributions and authentic lives of Black men and women in the history of the United States.

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