Social Studies

AP African American Studies: How Other States Are Responding After Florida’s Ban

By Eesha Pendharkar — February 23, 2023 7 min read
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature at the statehouse, in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.
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Following Florida’s ban of the pilot version of the College Board’s advanced placement African American Studies course, at least seven other states have taken a stance on the course.

While some Republican-led states are questioning whether the course is in compliance with laws that restrict lessons about race and racism, others are emphasizing the importance of the course, demanding that it not be watered down to cater to Florida, and expanding access to it.

The state-level actions for or against the course have been along party lines. In four Republican-led states, the departments of education decided to review the course to determine if it complies with their restrictions on lessons about race and racism; another state passed a bill that would ban the course if it interfered with state law. All five states; Arkansas, North Dakota, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia, are among the 18 states that have passed “anti-CRT” laws, which impose restrictions on lessons about race and racism that make students feel “guilt or anguish” for past actions of their race.

On the other hand, two Democrat-led states, Illinois and New Jersey, are emphasizing the need for AP African American Studies, or have warned the College Board—the organization that developed the course—that if it censors content, they will not accept the course.

The College Board’s final course framework, unveiled Feb. 1, unleashed a firestorm. Scholars, educators, news reports, and the nonprofit itself painted conflicting pictures of when and why certain topics were moved or dropped.

These are the states that have taken a stance on the AP African American Studies course:

Florida has threatened to ban all AP courses

After Florida banned the pilot version of the course, the state said it would reconsider if the topics Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. objected to were removed from the final version.

The College Board condemned Florida’s ban publicly, and DeSantis suggested he might consider withdrawing all AP courses from the state.

The pilot version, which will be taught until this fall, remains banned in the state.

Since then a parent-led civil rights advocacy organization called Save Your Six has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights complaint against DeSantis and the Florida department of education for blocking AP African American Studies, claiming that the state officials are violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

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Shekinah Hall in her classroom at McLain High School in Tulsa, Okla.
Shekinah Hall, a teacher at McLain High School in Tulsa, Okla., is one of two teachers in Tulsa who are teaching a pilot course of Advanced Placement African American Studies this school year.
Courtesy of Tulsa Public Schools

Arkansas and Virginia are reviewing the AP African American Studies course

Republican governors in two states, Arkansas and Virginia, have announced that their departments of education are reviewing the AP course to determine if it violates state laws or executive orders censoring certain lessons on race and racism.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued an executive order on her first day in office ordering a review of policies that “promote teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies,” such as critical race theory.

The pilot course is currently offered in two Arkansas schools: Little Rock Central High School and The Academies at Jonesboro High School.

The department is in touch with the College Board at Sanders’ direction to obtain information about the course, said Kimberly Mundell, the director of communications for the Arkansas department of education.

“We will review the information, including the recent changes, and assess the course at the end of this year’s pilot to ensure students are taught factual history and that participation articulates into college credit that is beneficial to students,” she said.

Some district leaders say these decisions should not be up to politicians.

“Educators and subject-matter experts, not politicians, should lead the curriculum-selection process. When elected officials use education to stir up partisan culture wars, our kids lose,” Ali Noland, a member of the Little Rock Board of Education in Arkansas, told EdWeek.

“Students at Little Rock Central High School, where the AP African American History course is being piloted, have a right to learn about their school’s important place in American history, even if that history makes some people uncomfortable.”

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin also passed an executive order on his first day banning “the use of inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory,” saying that “political indoctrination has no place in our classrooms.”

Based on that executive order, Youngkin asked Education Secretary Aimee Rogstad Guidera to review the College Board’s proposed AP African American Studies course.

Fairfax County, Va., school board members wrote Youngkin a letter asking him to reconsider the review. Representatives from the Virginia department of education did not immediately respond to questions about the review.

North Dakota will review the course if any districts want to offer it

North Dakota passed a law in 2021 that prohibits instruction in critical race theory, and issued academic regulations that dictate the enforcement of the law.

The law also requires that each school district “adopt a policy related to critical race theory.”

Before a school district can offer the AP African American Studies course, it would have to go through the materials to determine if they comply with the state’s law and administrative rules, as well as academic content standards, according to Dale Wetzel, the public information specialist at the department of public instruction.

If a district reviews the course and wants to offer it, the district must put in a request for a course code to the department of education, which reviews the course to see if it aligns with academic content standards, Wetzel said.

“At this time, none of our school districts has asked to offer the new advanced placement course in African American Studies,” he said. “We have not reviewed the materials for this course, and do not plan to unless a district says it wants to offer the course.”

Mississippi officials deemed the course compliant with state law

Mississippi’s office of secondary education reviewed and recently determined that the final version of the course is in compliance with the state law, according to Jean Cook, chief of communications for the state department of education.

Mississippi’s state law is briefer than most others. It states that students can’t be taught that “any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior” or “that individuals should be adversely treated on the basis of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”

Texas files bill to ban any AP course that doesn’t comply with the state’s anti-CRT law

This month, a Republican lawmaker in Texas introduced a bill that would ban any AP courses that did not comply with the state’s laws and “the essential knowledge and skills adopted by the [state’s board of education].”

If the bill passes, it will make Texas the only state to specifically target AP courses and test their compliance with state laws.

Texas already has an African American studies course, but it is not an AP course.

The state was also one of the first to pass a law against certain lessons on race and racism in 2021.

Students in Texas high schools that are piloting the AP course are concerned that their state might ban the course, according to local news reports.

Illinois is seeking information about changes to final course

When Florida first banned the pilot course, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, warned the College Board to not cave to DeSantis’ demands or make changes to it.

“In Illinois, we will not accept this watering down of history,” Pritzker wrote, according to a letter published by NBC News. “In Illinois, we reject any curriculum modifications designed to appease extremists like the Florida Governor and his allies.”

He also said that the state will examine the course to make sure it includes “a factual accounting of history, including the role played by Black queer Americans,” in response to DeSantis claiming that Black queer theory had no place in the course.

Pritzker is now seeking additional information about the final version of the course and the changes made to the pilot.

New Jersey is expanding access to the course

New Jersey’s Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced the expansion of the AP African American Studies course to 26 schools across the state next school year a few weeks after Florida’s ban.

Currently, the pilot version of the class is being taught in one high school in the state.

“The expansion of AP African American Studies in New Jersey will grant our students the opportunity to learn about the innumerable ways in which Black Americans have shaped and strengthened our country,” he said in a statement. “As governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis prioritize political culture wars ahead of academic success, New Jersey will proudly teach our kids that Black history is American history.”

Newark School District in New Jersey, where Murphy made the announcement, currently has a Black history course it developed in 2020. Six Newark high schools will offer AP African American Studies next year.

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