Arkansas removes AP African American Studies course just two days to the first day of school

According to a review of recent agendas and meeting minutes, the state Board of Education has yet to be presented with any issues or suggested policy changes involving AP African American Studies.

Just two days before classes begin, Arkansas joined Florida in its decision to drop an Advanced Placement African American Studies course from their high school curriculums.

An Arkansas Department of Education representative reportedly phoned high school teachers on Friday to let them know the state will not accept the course for course credit in the 2023–24 academic year, Arkansas Times reported.

Teachers at several institutions — including Central High, where nine African American students took charge and were the first to desegregate the school in 1957 — prepared for the course offering over the summer.

Advanced Placement African American Studies
On Friday, an Arkansas Department of Education representative informed teachers at several schools, including Central High, that Advanced Placement African American Studies has been dropped from its curriculum. (Photo Credit: Adobe Stock)

Former state Senator Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock), a former teacher, was among those who expressed concerns on social media about the last-minute state decision.

“How is it possible to carry out such a promise and not even offer this course?” Elliott asked, Arkansas Times reported. “They have decided to delete it just days before school begins and deny every student in this state — not just African-American students — the opportunity to take the AP African-American history course. This has to change for this school year.”

The state also refused to pay the $90 cost of an end-of-year exam that would have allowed students to earn college course credit. Instead, students will be responsible for covering their test costs, and the course will not count toward the state’s graduation requirements.

Teachers reportedly received word they could still offer the class, but the state will not recognize it on the same level as other AP courses. The decision could make African American Studies less attractive for students competing for top-class rankings, who often seek out AP classes to bump their grade point average.

In emails sent out on Saturday morning, the state informed district curriculum administrators of the course’s non-recognition. The Arkansas Department of Education apparently had yet to approve the course when it was previously listed on the state’s list of courses.

It’s unclear why the department didn’t remove the course earlier, rather than 48 hours before the start of the school year when teachers had already finalized their lesson plans and many students had already picked up their class schedules.

According to a review of recent agendas and meeting minutes, the state Board of Education has yet to be presented with any issues or suggested policy changes involving AP African American Studies. On Thursday, the day before the department removed AP African American Studies from its course management system, the board had its final meeting.

College Board, which develops and oversees AP exams, currently tests AP African American Studies in select American high schools. Last year, the organization launched the course in 60 schools nationwide, including Central High and The Academies at Jonesboro High School. 

College Board will expand the pilot program to hundreds of schools for the upcoming academic year, and students will take the course’s first test for college credit in the spring of 2024.

For the Republican base in Arkansas, who are already outraged by the false threat of critical race theory and the pervasive transgenderism in public schools, eliminating an African American studies course is a surefire way to get their attention. As soon as she took office, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave her new education secretary, Jacob Oliva, instructions to examine Arkansas curricula for indications of indoctrination and critical race theory.

Oliva was previously a state-level education official in Florida, which has taken the lead in the fight against history classes that don’t emphasize material about heteronormative white people. He assisted in carrying out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ administration’s attack on courses addressing multiculturalism or non-conventional sexual orientations, or gender identities.

Arkansas LEARNS, the significant school voucher and privatization measure supported by the governor, also targets multicultural education. The policy prohibits lessons that clash with the principle of equal protection under the law and “indoctrinate students with ideologies,” such as critical race theory.

Ruthie Walls, a Little Rock Central High teacher, previously expressed hope that issues surrounding the AP African American Studies pilot course would disappear. Walls said the course, which was already well-liked by students, did not go against Sanders’ directives banning critical racial theory and indoctrination and expressed disappointment that the governor singled it out for scrutiny.

During the 2023 legislative session, Sanders and other LEARNS advocates demonized public school teachers, accusing them of indoctrinating pupils without providing any concrete instances. Despite worries from both political parties about the possibly disastrous impact it may have on rural districts and communities, Arkansas’ supermajority Republican legislature quickly approved the LEARNS Act.

DeSantis was the first to reject AP African American Studies, claiming it violates state law and isn’t historically accurate. He went on to eliminate AP Psychology because the course covers sexual orientation and gender identity.

While the Republican governor banned the subject, Democrat Phil Murphy announced that his administration is expanding AP African American Studies from one school to 26 in New Jersey, The Associated Press previously reported.

According to Arkansas Times, public education watchdog Jim Ross pointed out that AP European History is still provided for full credit and referred to the Department of Education’s rejection of an African American history course as “racism pure and simple.”

Elliott hopes the Arkansas Department of Education will quickly declare the course fully credit-worthy. She referred to the education department’s social media banner: “Every Arkansan is equitably prepared, supported, and inspired to succeed in school, career, community, and life.”

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