The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An Indiana school planned Black History Month lessons. A letter sent to parents initially said they could opt out.

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Editor's note

This headline and story have been updated to include the latest response from Superintendent Emily Tracy.

Earlier this month, a letter to Sprunica Elementary School parents in Nineveh, Ind., enthusiastically announced plans to teach lessons about “equity, caring, and understanding differences” in honor of Valentine’s Day and Black History Month.

“Studies show that students who have a greater understanding of diversity in the classroom and outside world will demonstrate improved learning outcomes such as improved grades, better peer relationships, and greater career success later on,” stated the letter, which was signed by school counselor Benjamin White.

But below White’s sign-off, the letter gave parents the option of shielding their children from the lessons. Parents could sign the bottom of the form under a sentence that read: “My Student Does Not have permission to receive this lesson.”

A photo of the form on Tuesday spread widely on Twitter, prompting online backlash and leading Brown County Schools, a district located about 40 miles south of Indianapolis, to respond.

In a Feb. 17 letter to families and staff members, Superintendent Emily Tracy said the form “erroneously” advised parents and students that they could opt out of the Black History Month lessons.

“To be clear, our District does not permit students to opt out of history lessons—including ones based on historical injustices,” Tracy said. “We apologize for the confusion caused by the letter, and offer our assurances that Brown County Schools is committed to providing an inclusive educational environment for all students and families.”

About 240 students are enrolled at Sprunica Elementary School, which is 97 percent White, according to state data.

News of the opt-out form comes as teachers and school administrators around the country grapple with how to teach race-based lessons. In 13 states, new laws or directives have limited how race — and sometimes gender — are addressed in classrooms, leaving teachers fearful of the repercussions and in some cases opting to pull lessons, The Post has reported.

New critical race theory laws have teachers scared, confused and self-censoring

Indiana is among at least 27 states considering such legislation. Passed by the Republican-controlled Indiana House in January, House Bill 1134 proposes limits to race and history lessons in the state’s classrooms, the Indianapolis Star reported, although Senate Republicans there on Tuesday proposed changes that would slightly weaken the bill. In January, a similar bill stalled in the Indiana Senate after its author, Republican state Sen. Scott Baldwin, said teachers’ lessons about fascism and Nazism should be impartial. He later apologized and told the Star that “Nazism, Marxism and fascism are a stain on our world history.”

The flood of laws and proposals aimed at reining in lessons on race and gender has been prompted by conservative opposition to critical race theory, an intellectual movement that examines the way policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism.