Despite Increasing Demand for AP African American Studies Curriculum Nationwide, Florida Maintains Its Ban on the Course

Corrections & Clarifications: In a previous version, Victoria McQueen’s title at her high school was incorrectly identified. She holds the position of student body president.

Last year, AP African American Studies was introduced in 60 schools nationwide. Due to an overwhelming surge in demand, this fall, the course will be tested in nearly 800 high schools—twice the original plan.

However, despite its growth and notable revisions, AP African American Studies remains prohibited in Florida. Although the state recently approved its own African American history standards, which officials have praised as an anti-“woke” approach, advocates argue that these standards fail to address crucial aspects of the Black experience, essentially whitewashing or glossing over important parts of history.

As a consequence of this political tug-of-war, hundreds, if not thousands, of Florida high school students have had their aspirations of taking a challenging, college-level African American history course shattered.

The Clash: Florida vs. the College Board AP courses are designed to offer high school students college-level classes, and successful performance on an end-of-year exam can earn them college credit. The College Board, a nonprofit organization overseeing the AP program, spent over a decade developing AP African American Studies with input from a diverse group of scholars and educators.

After a test run in a few schools, including some in Florida, the College Board expanded the program to a second pilot year and set a deadline of January 30, 2023, for school participation, aiming to introduce the course in about 400 schools during the fall semester.

However, the plan hit a roadblock in Florida, where the Department of Education unexpectedly banned the course in mid-January, just days before the deadline. The decision was based on officials’ assertion that the curriculum was “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” Specifically, they raised concerns about topics such as Black Lives Matter, Black feminism, and reparations being included in the curriculum.

The ban caused a nationwide outcry, as did the College Board’s subsequent response—agreeing to remove certain contentious content highlighted by Florida officials. Following intense public reaction, the College Board made further revisions to the curriculum, re-incorporating some of the previously contentious concepts and issuing an apology for their handling of the dispute.

Surging Demand for AP African American Studies Course

A heated dispute between the Florida education department and College Board has been ongoing, involving not only the AP African American Studies course but also AP Psychology. The latter includes discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity, which have faced restrictions under Florida law. Unlike AP Psychology, the College Board refused to modify the content of AP African American Studies.

Despite the tensions, the demand for the AP African American Studies course has been soaring. Although some schools missed the initial deadline, every school on the list managed to offer the course this fall. As of this month, schools in at least 32 states have confirmed their participation, with an estimated 16,000 students enrolled for the course.

However, Florida stands apart from these states, showing no signs of reconsidering its stance on AP African American Studies. When questioned about the course’s status in Florida, College Board spokesperson Kelsey Lehtomaa Frouge redirected reporters to the Florida Department of Education, emphasizing that they haven’t received any indication of a reversal.

On the other hand, the state argues that the College Board never submitted the revised version of the course for consideration. Lehtomaa Frouge responded, stating that they have not determined a specific timeline for releasing the revised framework to states for review, and they will engage with states once the framework is complete.

Despite the ongoing developments, approximately six of Florida’s largest school districts remain unable to offer the course, providing vague responses to inquiries. Some districts referred reporters to the state for confirmation, while others expressed uncertainty about the continuation of the course’s pilot testing. Additionally, some mentioned that the course has not yet received approval, and the Florida education department has not assigned a course code for AP African American Studies.

Controversy Surrounding Florida’s African American History Standards

Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, along with other state leaders, have been staunchly defending their decision to reject the College Board’s course on African American history. They argue that existing state law already mandates the teaching of African American history in the K-12 curriculum. This law, established in 1994, created the African American History Task Force and requires instruction on the history, culture, experiences, and contributions of African Americans in Florida.

In January, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. took to Twitter to emphasize their rejection of an AP course, accusing it of promoting Critical Race Theory and violating Florida’s laws. He asserted that Florida proudly mandates the teaching of African American history and will not tolerate what he termed as “woke indoctrination masquerading as education.”

However, critics argue that the recently adopted standards for teaching African American history in Florida fall short in several areas. They claim that the standards neglect to address Florida’s role in slavery, tend to blame African Americans for their oppression, and omit significant periods of history. Critics find the standards lacking in depth when exploring those who promoted violence against Black individuals in the United States.

One of the concerns raised by opponents is that elementary and middle school students are not required to learn about African American history beyond the Reconstruction era, following the Civil War. The middle school curriculum, while mentioning the development of skills by slaves for personal benefit, is seen as somewhat simplistic and not fully representative of the complexities of that history. Furthermore, when discussing the Ocoee Massacre in high school, students are expected to learn about both violence against and by African Americans, raising questions about how this tragic event is framed.

The Ocoee Massacre, considered the largest incidence of voting-day violence in U.S. history, occurred in 1920, and it involved the lynching of a Black man named July Perry and the murder and burning of houses belonging to other Black community members. Critics argue that the state’s new standards might inadvertently place some blame on African Americans, perpetuating a harmful narrative that “blames the victim.”

Glen Gilzean, Chairperson of the African American History Task Force, has defended the group’s efforts and emphasized that Black history is an integral part of American history. He stated that Florida already mandates the teaching of African American history, and the new standards aim to align these requirements while holding teachers accountable to ensure comprehensive and accurate instruction on African American history continues in classrooms.

Florida Students Disheartened by Rejection of AP African American Studies

Victoria McQueen, a 17-year-old student from Tallahassee, Florida, had been eagerly anticipating her senior year, looking forward to enrolling in AP African American Studies. However, when she learned that the DeSantis administration had rejected the course, she felt defeated.

As a young African American female, Victoria expressed deep disappointment that even after 400 years, the history of African Americans is still being swept under the rug. She lamented how African Americans and people of color, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, have been marginalized and not given the recognition they deserve. The fact that their struggles and achievements are not acknowledged even in the classroom saddened her.

Having already completed six AP classes, Victoria, who is also her high school’s student body president, was determined to learn the subject matter and considered taking an actual college course. However, she was disheartened to discover that even colleges are now facing restrictions on what they can teach about African American history and diversity due to concerns surrounding critical race theory.

Governor DeSantis, who is vying for the Republican nomination for president, has taken a firm stance against diversity, equity, and inclusion programs on Florida college campuses. Recently, he signed a bill that curtails state funding for any programs or activities based on theories related to systemic racism, sexism, and privilege in the United States, arguing that such theories perpetuate social, political, and economic inequities.

Victoria’s high school, located just a mile away from the Florida Capitol and the state Department of Education building, makes her feel that state leaders should be more attentive to students’ voices and their aspirations for inclusive and comprehensive education.