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Black leaders blast College Board’s changes to AP African American Studies course

The College Board on Wednesday released the final syllabus for its new Advanced Placement African American Studies course, which appeared to omit any references to subjects or works Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized and was rebuked by black leaders for “watering down” the course, to appease politicians.

The final framework, which the College Board released in a 234-page course outline, omits any reference to Black Queer Studies, the Black Lives Matter movement, Black feminist literary thought, and slavery reparations. The syllabus also does not include works or study ideas associated with well-known black scholars and authors such as Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, Angela Davis and Bell Hooks such as critical race theory — all subjects about which the governor has expressed concerns, according to a review of the document.

“This is a monumental moment for education as we recognize the incredible contributions that African Americans have made to our country’s history,” said Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat representing Northwest Miami-Dade and Southwest Broward, in a statement after the publication. Nonetheless, he said DeSantis’ “systematic assault on public education is far larger than the AP’s teaching. This is part of a larger war on our ability to think, question and engage in our democracy. It is a national attempt to transform the way students learn.”

The curriculum comes two weeks after the governor announced that the state had rejected the course to be taught in Florida’s public high schools in the upcoming school year, sparking a national political firestorm. It also follows Tuesday’s announcement by DeSantis to overhaul higher education in the state, which includes a recommendation to eliminate “bureaucracies” for diversity, equity and inclusion on college and university campuses.

Initially, the administration claimed the course violated state law and “lack[ed] educational value” without citing evidence. Last year, the Florida legislature passed a series of bills — now statutes — that limit or bar discussion of racial and LGBTQ+ issues Higher education or for students below the third grade.

But after criticism from Florida’s black leaders, national organizations and the White House, Florida’s Department of Education a graphic curated It outlined broadly the issues they objected to, including the work of black scholars and writers such as Crenshaw, Davis, and Hooks.

Crenshaw is a professor at Columbia Law School whose publications focus on civil rights, critical race theory, black feminist legal theory and race, racism and the law; Davis is a political activist, professor, and author; and hooks is an author who has influenced discussions of race, feminism, and class.

Related: DeSantis says AP’s African American history class drives the political agenda

College Board Says Politicians Didn’t Run Course

It remains unclear how much of what was included or excluded from the final curriculum was the result of criticism from DeSantis and his administration. The college board said in a statement that no states or districts saw the official framework prior to its unveiling, “let alone provided feedback on it.”

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After Florida rejected the course, the college board said it would not give in to pressure from governors or district leaders, routinely saying that pilot programs often undergo multiple and continuous changes as a new AP course is developed. This is the first time the College Board has developed an AP course in African American history.

College Board CEO David Coleman said in a press release Wednesday that the course is an “intrepid encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture. No one will be excluded from this course… Everyone will be seen.”

Robert J. Patterson, Professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University, co-chair of a committee that developed the course, said in a statement Wednesday that the course “offers an unprecedented breadth of content and depth of skills that exceeds what many introductory college-level African American Studies courses can achieve within a semester or quarter.”

As of Wednesday night, neither the governor nor his government issued a statement on the release.

Influence of DeSantis

The DeSantis administration has not approved the pilot course framework, nor has it been released by the college board, making it difficult to decipher what content was changed — or when. Still, some people wonder why the College Board removed these topics. (The Herald received a copy of a version of the pilot course after the rejection.)

Daniella Pierre, president of the NAACP’s Miami-Dade branch, understands changes would be made to the pilot program, but was concerned about the college board removing certain issues and the governor’s perceived influence on the decision, particularly if the board did so had support from national civil rights organizations. While she has not yet fully reviewed the published framework, she believes the College Board should stand firmly on what it has presented as the factual story.

“While the College Board might say [the changes] are pedagogical, I’m not so sure about that,” Pierre told the Herald. “Because I see that [the topics removed] were questioned by the administration.”

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Miami-Dade County Black Affairs Advisory Board, members discussed the college board’s framework and voted unanimously to allow an employee to write a letter opposing DeSantis policy.

“We are the voice of the Black community in Miami-Dade County,” said Pierre Rutledge, Miami-Dade School System’s Board Chairman and Administrator. “When you sit and are silent, sometimes silence can be taken as approval.”

Related: Miami AP African American students say Florida’s rejection of classes is ‘shocking’

And on Tuesday, more than 200 faculty members in African American Studies condemned DeSantis’ perceived interference in the course in a letter published on Medium.

However, Craig Whisenhunt, a Pinellas Park attorney, was less willing to attribute the changes to the governor and questioned the timing of his criticism.

The college board has routinely said that pilot courses are subject to constant change during development, and the governor’s rejection, he argued, is akin to a teacher banging on a student’s draft report on the eve of his submission.

Whisenhunt, who last month indicated he would join a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Education if the state agency rejected the course, said he suspected the pilot’s framework at the time the governor rejected it was “very looked similar to what we are seeing now and probably would have looked like it” with or without the governor’s input.

He agrees with some critics who claim the final version is a “dilution” of newer topics, but said the course’s focus is “more on how we got to where we are than on the now.”

In that regard, he said, the curriculum appears to be in line with that goal.

The final framework will be different from the pilot, College Board says

Though the issues raised by the DeSantis administration appear to be absent from the final framework, in a statement the College Board provided examples of how the framework differs from the preliminary pilot courses.

According to the press release, the curriculum includes new topics that were not well represented in the pilot course, including a course called Black Conservatism, which is now being offered as an idea for a research project.

The course — as “an interdisciplinary course that draws from a variety of fields to explore the important contributions and experiences of African Americans” — has been in development for nearly a year and has included more than 300 African American Studies professors out of “more than 200 Colleges across the country,” including historically black colleges and universities.

Specifically, any eliminated subjects will not appear on the final AP exam that colleges and universities use in deciding whether to award student credit for the course. A student must achieve a specific grade on the AP exam to receive college credit for the high school class.

During that school year, the College Board rolled out the course in 60 classrooms across the country, including at least one in Miami-Dade County public schools. Students at the Robert Morgan Educational Center in southwest Miami-Dade were enrolled in the pilot course and were upset when the Miami-Dade Schools canceled classes midway through the school year and allowed students to finish the year in an honors course in African-American history.

“If that’s a change they’re going to make [and] Take away from me learning simple history, what else can you take away from my education? Chyna Lee Hunter, 17, one of the students in the class, told the Herald. “If the story focuses on just one culture, “we won’t know the whole story. Everyone will always feel uncomfortable and out of place.”

The district said it removed the materials after the Florida Department of Education advised that the classes “violated Florida law,” a school district spokesman said. It’s unclear how many other Florida schools participated in the pilot program or if those classes were also canceled following the governor’s announcement.

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.

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