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DeSantis to Face Lawsuit After Rejecting AP African-American Studies Course That ‘Lacks Educational Value’

Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

Florida students now plan to wage a legal battle against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over his refusal to permit the College Board’s new Advanced Placement African American studies course in schools.

The course is currently in development and being piloted in select U.S. high schools through 2024.  Per the College Board’s website, AP African-American studies “reaches into a variety of fields—literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography, and science—to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans. ” The course was developed by acclaimed scholars including Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham.

The course is expected to be run in 60 schools across the nation in 2022-23, then to hundreds more the following school year. By the 2024-25 school year, all schools can begin offering the course with the first AP exam expected in Spring 2025.

Florida, however, was not interested in the course as planned. DeSantis’s Department of Education sent a letter to the College Board on Jan. 19 rejecting the new AP course, saying “the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

The DOE did not specially say what about the course violated any particular state law, but two recent Florida statutes relating to education are likely implicated.

Florida passed the Stop the Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act — known colloquially as the “Stop Woke Act” — in April 2022, which allows parents to sue teachers and schools over complaints regarding how race is taught in classrooms. At the time, DeSantis — a Harvard Law grad himself — said its goal was to “fight against woke indoctrination.”

The primary focus of the ban was to remove the teaching of both “critical race theory” (a decades-old interdisciplinary academic theory focusing on how law and politics have been shaped by social conceptions of race and ethnicity and usually implemented only in higher education) and the New York Times’ 1619 project (an ongoing initiative from that “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative”) in Florida’s schools.

The Sunshine State also passed the Parental Rights in Education Act, — known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — the following October, which forbids discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary schools.

The College Board then announced Wednesday that it would revise the official framework for the AP African American studies course and that those revisions would be released on Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month. The College Board did not affirm or deny that the revisions were a result of DeSantis’s refusal to permit the course to run in Florida schools, but said it was part of an overall process of revising the course to incorporate feedback from the pilot program.

The next volley in the conflict came from three Florida high school students represented by renowned civil rights lawyer Ben Crump. In a tweet, Crump said that students and elected officials will sue DeSantis and Florida for blocking the course.

Lawyer, Harvard graduate, and State Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D) also spoke out against DeSantis’s actions Wednesday at a press conference. 

Driskell predicted that the College Board would revise its course to comply with Florida’s demands and asked, “Are we really okay with Ron DeSantis deciding what is acceptable for America’s students across the country about Black history?”

[Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos