DeSantis admin blocks AP African American Studies course, says it ‘lacks educational value’

Course also ‘inexplicably contrary to Florida law,’ state says

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – The administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis is blocking a request to include an Advanced Placement course on African American studies for Florida high schoolers, saying it violates state law.

In a Jan. 12 letter to the College Board, which oversees the college-level courses, the Florida Department of Education said the course, which is described by the College Board as “explor(ing) the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans,” is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

The letter went on to say that should the College Board come back to the table with “lawful, historically accurate content” in the future, the FLDOE will “always be willing to reopen the discussion.”

State Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Tamarac, a former Broward school board member, criticized the state’s decision in an interview with Local 10 News on Thursday.

“When we have a thought that curriculum on African American studies does not have any value, it literally blows my mind, because African American people have contributed to history very significantly,” Osgood said. “Does not have any value for who? That would be my question.”

The rejection of the course follows the governor’s efforts to limit discussions of race in Florida schools.

In 2022, DeSantis signed the “Stop WOKE Act,” restricting race-based conversation and analysis in the business and education sectors, which has seen court challenges. A judge recently issued an injunction against the law.

The law bars instruction that says members of one race are inherently racist or should feel guilt for past actions committed by others of the same race, among other things.

The FLDOE letter does not specify the “Stop WOKE Act” as the law the agency believes the AP course contravenes.

In fact, the letter doesn’t specify exactly what aspects of the course violate state law.

Legal analyst David Weinstein weighed in on how the state’s decision could interface with the recent judicial decision on “Stop WOKE,” which stopped it from being enforced on college campuses.

“While the AP course is for (high school) students, most universities give you credit for AP courses, if those AP courses are approved at the (high school) level. So arguably the injunction at the college level could apply,” Weinstein said. “But more important is the fact that the state has appealed the temporary injunction to the Court of Appeals and the discovery proceedings in the lower court have been stayed pending the issuance of either a full stay of the injunction by the Court of Appeals or a resolution of the appeal.”

Osgood said the reasoning behind the state’s decision isn’t as important as its result.

“I don’t know what the basis of this thought is, or this decision,” Osgood said. “But I can tell you, it’s really, really unfair. And it’s downright painful to people of color.”

The governor has railed against critical race theory, the idea that racism is systemic in U.S. institutions that serve to perpetuate white dominance in society, but critics contend DeSantis isn’t accurately describing the concept and is instead trying to suppress accurate accounts of Black history.

They’ve also contended that CRT isn’t even and never has been taught in Florida schools.

More recently, the governor’s budget office called on state colleges to submit spending information on programs related to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory, raising concerns of potential funding cuts around such initiatives.

For its part, the College Board says the course “is designed to encourage students to examine each theme from a variety of perspectives, without ideology.”

The organization says that “like all new AP courses, AP African American Studies is undergoing a rigorous, multi-year pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars and policymakers.”

It said it will publicly release “the updated course framework when it is completed and well before this class is widely available in American high schools. We look forward to bringing this rich and inspiring exploration of African-American history and culture to students across the country.”

The course is being piloted at 60 schools nationwide “expected to be available to all interested high schools in the 2024-2025 school year, once colleges and universities have confirmed their credit and placement policies for this AP exam,” according to the College Board.

The organization has been working on constructing the course for more than a decade, according to its website.

A teacher in New York told The Associated Press that her students were “shocked” to learn Florida blocked the class. She described it as a factual African history course that also details what Africans experienced upon their arrival in North America.

“There’s nothing objectionable, it’s history that hasn’t been traditionally taught in the United States in a K through 12 setting,” Sharon Courtney, a high school teacher in Peekskill, New York, said. “But it’s also history that once known and understood could change race relations and improve them.”

DeSantis did not address the controversy over the course rejection at a news conference in Fort Myers Thursday.

Teaching African American History at home — resources for parents:

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.