The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Backlash grows against DeSantis decision to block AP African American studies class

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump stands with Elijah Edwards, 14, a student at Sail High School during a “Stop The Black Attack” rally in Tallahassee on Wednesday. (Octavio Jones/Reuters)
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing mounting backlash regarding his administration’s decision to prohibit an Advanced Placement high school course on African American studies, with Black leaders rallying in the capital, a prominent civil rights lawyer threatening to sue and state lawmakers urging him to reverse the decision.

Attorney Ben Crump accused DeSantis of violating the federal and state constitutions Wednesday by refusing to permit the course. His legal team noted that a federal judge found a 2010 law in Arizona that banned a Mexican American studies program from Tucson schools unconstitutional and officials “motivated by racial animus.”

On Jan. 25, Florida state Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D) accused Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of attacking students' constitutional rights by banning Black history course. (Video: Reuters)

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The state Department of Education contends that the class is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law.” A new education law championed by DeSantis requires lessons on race be taught in “an objective manner” and “not used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.” Some education advocates and teachers say the law is so broadly framed that it is having a chilling effect on the teaching of Black history.

“If he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African American Studies to be taught in classrooms across the state of Florida, these three young people will be the lead plaintiffs in a historic lawsuit,” Crump said before he introduced the students.

Crump has been involved in several high-profile civil rights cases involving Black Americans and vowed that DeSantis “cannot exterminate our culture.”

The latest controversy in Florida education policies began this month, when the DeSantis administration said a pilot Advanced Placement course on Black history would not be approved by the state Department of Education because it violated state law and “lacks educational value.”

The state Education Department listed “concerns” in the curriculum, including topics covering “Intersectionality and Activism,” “Black Feminist Literary Theory” and “Black Queer Studies.”

“Now who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory?” DeSantis said at a news conference this week. “That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids.”

But critics of the governor, who has made eliminating what he calls “woke indoctrination” from schools and businesses a key part of his platform, say he is unfairly targeting Black history by not allowing the course to be taught in Florida. Other Advanced Placement classes, such as European history, have not been scrutinized by the DeSantis administration.

The College Board said in a news release Tuesday that the “official framework” of the course will be released Feb. 1, replacing the pilot program and incorporating feedback from high schools and colleges.

Alex Lanfranconi, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, said in a statement that the administration is “encouraged to see the College Board express a willingness to amend.” He added that the state will reconsider approving the class after examining the new curriculum.

“We look forward to reviewing the College Board’s changes and expect the removal of content on Critical Race Theory, Black Queer Studies, Intersectionality, and other topics that violate our law,” Lanfranconi said.

A College Board spokesman declined to comment on whether the curriculum was being adjusted in light of the DeSantis administration’s concerns. AP classes take two to six years to develop, according to the board, and “are regularly reviewed thereafter.”

Teens embrace AP class featuring Black history, a subject under attack

Because the AP curriculum is the same in all states, DeSantis critics say Florida officials should not be able to determine what goes into it. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) called on the College Board to ignore pressure from the DeSantis administration.

Pritzker said Illinois would “reject any curriculum modifications designed to appease extremists like the Florida Governor and his allies.”

“I urge you to maintain your reputation as an academic institution dedicated to the advancement of students and refuse to bow to political pressure that would ask you to rewrite our nation’s true, if sometimes unpleasant, history,” Pritzker wrote in a letter to College Board CEO David Coleman on Wednesday. “One Governor should not have the power to dictate the facts of U.S. history.”

Meanwhile, dozens gathered at a “Stop the Black Attack” rally in Tallahassee organized by Equal Ground, a voting rights advocacy group. Several speakers accused DeSantis of trying to further marginalize the state’s Black community during his time in office. State Sen. Shevrin Jones (D) said DeSantis should be addressing issues such as “crumbling schools, dilapidated buildings in our communities” and high property insurance costs.

“These are the issues that‘s being ignored because we have to deal with the promotion of Jim Crow 3.0 by people who don’t know and don’t care about what’s happening in Black communities, but they desire to referee how you teach our history,” Jones said.

DeSantis has said he wants students to learn Black history — and by law, they are required to — but accused teachers of indoctrinating students to believe a “woke ideology.”

Leaders with the state legislature’s Black caucus are planning to engage with national civil rights organizations to put together additional educational opportunities around Black history so that students “will not have to wait on a state or governor to see the value in their history,” the lawmakers said in a statement this week.

State Rep. Michele Rayner (D) said that DeSantis is on a political “witch hunt” and violating Florida students’ freedom to learn — and that students are aware.

“They know that the erasure of history is not a secret,” Rayner said. “There are 2.8 million students sitting in Florida public schools right now knowing that their governor does not want them to learn about Black history.”

Cries to remove books from classrooms and library shelves is nothing new. Some of what has shifted are the storylines, characters and authors being silenced. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post, Photo: Illustration: Brian Monroe/The Washington Post)