Outcry Grows After DeSantis Rejects AP African-American Studies Course

Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Department of Education has rejected a request from the College Board—which runs the SAT and approves advanced placement (AP) courses for high schools across the country— to approve a high school African-American Studies course in Florida on the grounds that it violates state law, according to a copy of the letter provided to The Daily Beast.

Specifically, some on the right are saying the Advanced Placement (AP) program, which is currently undergoing a nationwide pilot, was vetoed because state officials believe it promotes Critical Race Theory, recently banned from schools under the state’s “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act.

The brief rejection letter, dated Jan. 12, reads: “as presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

“If the course comes into compliance and incorporates historically accurate content, the Department will reopen the discussion,” said Florida Department of Education spokesperson Cassie Pelelis in an email to The Daily Beast.

The College Board, for its part, said revising the curriculum is par-for-the-course and remained tight-lipped about whether it expected the class to be offered in Florida classrooms.

“The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new AP course, and frameworks change significantly as a result,” the College Board said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “We look forward to publicly releasing the updated course framework as soon as it is completed and well before this class is widely available in American high schools.”

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But Wednesday’s denial nonetheless enraged some Florida educators, who have had to contend with the controversial “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” which was signed into law last April as part of a spurious effort to combat the teaching of “critical race theory” in Florida—and make other drastic changes to schooling in the state.

“It means an insult to me, it means an injury to me.” said Dr. Marvin Dunn, former professor of psychology at Florida International University and a specialist in the state’s Black history. “ Florida is doing its best to shut down discussions about race, slavery, anything having to do with a challenge to the idea that racism is still a real factor in American life today.”

Representatives from the Florida DOE and governor’s office did not respond to immediate requests for comment on this, and other claims by educators.

In his march towards a possible presidential nomination, DeSantis has —at what seems a blistering pace— taken up a war on what he calls “woke” education in Florida. He has packed K-12 school districts with far-right extremists, pushed book bans, passed the notorious “Don’t Say Gay” bill and appointed right-wing advocates to the board of at least one liberal arts college.

And on Wednesday, the heads of Florida’s 28 state colleges pledged that they would not fund any program “that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality.”

While details of the African-American studies course haven’t been publicly released, last August Florida educator Marlon Williams-Clark told NPR that the first weeks of his pilot program classroom in Tallahassee focused on the birth of the subject and the many backgrounds and cultures that make up Black identity in the United States.

When asked about whether DeSantis’ efforts to ban conversation about race in classrooms has effected the way he teaches, he said: “ I can never stop the conversations they’re having with each other, but I stick to the Florida state standards for African American history and other social studies standards that are integrated within the course, and that’s just the route we go.”

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Neither the College Board nor the Florida DOE would release the details of what exactly had irked the DeSantis administration, but one right-wing outlet, the National Review—which claimed to have obtained a copy of the curriculum—blamed the course for teaching Critical Race Theory.

CRT is “an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society,” according to the NAACP’s Legal Defense fund, but the theory is often misused by right-wing activists to mean any teaching about race and racism in the U.S. There is little evidence to suggest that CRT is being taught in American pre-primary and primary schools.

Spiking the AP course infuriated educators and Democratic legislators across Florida—who said the decision was unsettling at best.

“If I can take American and European history there’s absolutely no reason why, I see no reason why our students shouldn’t have the option to take African-American history,” one Democratic state legislator, Anna Eskamani, told The Daily Beast. “These are optional elective classes and and they’re designed for a level of academic rigor that is reflected in some of the best and brightest students we have. To deny them the ability to learn history is is is scary, it’s unsettling and it’s unfortunately, all too common for the standard administration who would rather people be in the dark.”

Even middle school educators who spoke with The Daily Beast worried about what this would mean for the future of their students.

“Rejecting [the course] means that our students once again will not have access to a true definition of what history looks like from their perspective,” said Hillsborough County teacher Denise Thomas Ford, who works in a district with a high percentage of Black students. “And not just an African-American student perspective, but every student needs to have access to this information … If you’re you're not giving them all sides of something so that they can think, you’re damaging them. You’re giving them a biased education.”

Dunn explained that he sees these steps to take away students’ opportunity to learn their history as a warning shot for the country—and a call to vote.

“What just happened in Florida that this is coming your way. This suppression of Black history is going to become a national thing if DeSantis and people who support him gain control of the federal government and the White House,” said Dunn. “I say: You’ve been warned.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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