Florida rejects new AP high school course on African American studies

The state has not provided specifics on what it found objectionable.
Without providing specifics, Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration has claimed that the course violates state law and that it “lacks educational value.”
Without providing specifics, Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration has claimed that the course violates state law and that it “lacks educational value.” [ SCOTT OLSON | Getty Images North America ]
Published Jan. 19|Updated Jan. 23

TALLAHASSEE — Without a detailed explanation, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has rejected a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies for high school students, broadly claiming it violates state law and that it “lacks educational value.”

When asked for specifics on the content, the Florida Department of Education did not respond, making it unclear what items the state believes are unlawful or objectionable.

On Monday, three days after this story published, the department responded and said the state had concerns with topics in lesson plans about Black Queer Studies, the Black Lives Matter movement, Black Feminist Literary Thought, the reparations movement and the Black Struggle in the 21st Century, among other readings by Black scholars, activists and writers.

The course would be offered by the College Board, which administers the Advanced Placement program and the SAT exam.

“In the future, should College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE will always be willing to reopen the discussion,” the state wrote in a letter to the College Board, the company that administers the course as well as other interdisciplinary courses and the SAT exam.

The Advanced Placement program is the first course in African American studies to be offered by the College Board. It would allow high school students to earn credits and advanced placement at many colleges across the country.

“Like all new AP courses, AP African American Studies is undergoing a rigorous, multiyear pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars and policymakers,” the College Board said in a statement on Thursday. “The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new AP course, and frameworks often change significantly as a result.”

The course has been in development for more than a decade, and it focuses not just on history, but explores the “vital contributions and experiences of African Americans” in literature, the arts, political science, geography and science, according to the College Board.

A syllabus is not yet publicly available. The course framework will be released when it is completed and before it is “widely available in American high schools,” according to the College Board.

But the syllabus was apparently leaked to The Florida Standard, a conservative outlet that is friendly with the DeSantis administration. According to the outlet, the course “sought to teach progressive doctrines” because it included topics such as “Black Queer Studies” and “Postracial Racism and Colorblindness.”

Florida’s action has drawn a sharp rebuke from critics who suggest it amounts to whitewashing history.

“This political extremism and its attack of Black History and Black people, is going to create an entire generation of Black children who won’t be able to see themselves reflected at all within their own education or in their own state,” West Park state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, posted on Twitter.

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Florida currently offers Advanced Placement courses on European History and other cultures, Jones noted.

“It’s crazy how AP African-American studies made the chopping block in Florida,” he said.

Florida’s rejection of the course comes after years of DeSantis and Republican leaders making controversial changes to many elements of the state’s education curriculum, some of which have impacted how schools can teach students about race.

The State Board of Education has barred lessons that deal with critical race theory, a 1980s legal concept that holds that racial disparities are systemic in the United States, not just a collection of individual prejudices, as well as lessons about “The 1619 Project,” a New York Times project that reexamines U.S. history by placing the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans at the center. It is unclear whether the AP African American Studies course includes lessons or tenets on those subjects.

In Florida, which DeSantis has declared to be the state where “woke goes to die,” DeSantis and Republican legislative leaders have approved laws that limit what schools and employers can teach about racism and other aspects of history.

The DeSantis administration has also rejected dozens of math textbooks for what the state called “indoctrination,” but similar to the actions taken against the AP African American studies course, the state has failed to provide specifics on the objectionable content.

Related: Florida rejected dozens of math textbooks. But only 3 reviewers found CRT violations.

Florida’s actions against these topics are ongoing, and DeSantis’ team has drawn attention to these controversial decisions by giving conservative outlets exclusives on headline-grabbing matters.

The news about Florida rejecting the AP African American Studies course was first covered by the conservative news outlet The National Review. In that story, the reporter described the pilot program as one that was met with “great fanfare in the mainstream press.”

Note: This story was updated to reflect a response from the Florida Department of Education on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.