Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders under fire for pulling AP African-American studies

“There will be lawsuits,” said Chris Jones, who ran against Sanders in the 2022 gubernatorial race as the Democratic nominee.

Critics of Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ executive decision to end an advanced placement African-American studies course in the state could face challenges in court.

“There will be lawsuits,” said Chris Jones, who ran against Sanders in the 2022 gubernatorial race as the Democratic nominee.

LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS – FEBRUARY 07: Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders waits to deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union address by President Joe Biden on February 7, 2023 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Biden tonight vowed to not allow the U.S. to default on its debt by calling on Congress to raise the debt-ceiling and chastising Republicans seeking to leverage the standoff to force spending cuts. (Photo by Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images)

Jones objects to his former opponent’s order to remove AP African-American studies. The decision came several months after she signed into law the state’s “LEARNS” education bill, which prohibits indoctrination and critical race theory in Arkansas public schools. 

Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Jacob Oliva said the AP African-American studies course didn’t meet “rules that have long been in place.” Last week, the department took action to end the College Board curriculum, which is a two-year national pilot program. The action in Arkansas came just days before the start of school on Monday. 

The AP African-American studies course would have given college credits to high school seniors. Now, the school districts a part of the pilot program are offering the course as an elective. 

Arkansas is the latest Republican-controlled state to ban or restrict aspects of Black history in the classroom. The crusade against such courses has been led by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a current Republican presidential candidate. 

Since learning of the change, College Board, which created the two-year pilot program for AP African-American studies, said it worked diligently to communicate with the Arkansas Department of Education about the decision.

Steve Bumbaugh, a senior vice president at College Board, told theGrio the course in Arkansas allowed students to “fulfill a social studies requirement” for college. He said the decision could cause problems for some high school seniors needing AP credits. 

“Now that’s up in the air,” explained Bumbaugh. He added, “It’s possible that there are some students sitting in classrooms in Arkansas that are concerned about graduating in the spring.”

Books are piled up in the classroom for students takeing AP African-American Studies at Overland High School on November 1, 2022 in Aurora, Colorado. The AP African-American Studies course is part of a national pilot class that about 60 schools nationwide are participating in. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Bumbaugh said as many as 25,000 students nationwide participate in the AP African-American studies program. The students who meet the threshold to take the honors course would get high school and college credit traditionally.

He told theGrio he hopes the decision by Arkansas school officials to remove African-American studies from its advanced placement program is “not a trend.” 

Ironically, Bumbaugh added, “the demand for this course is off the charts” across the country. “It was in 60 high schools last year. It will be in about 750 this school year,” he explained. 

Another irony is that one of the schools that participated in the AP African-American studies pilot in Arkansas is Little Rock Central High School, where the nation famously witnessed the integration of nine Black students in 1957. The racial integration of the school resulted from a federal ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.

However, resistance to racial integration at Central High was so great that the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, had to be escorted by the National Guard.

Forty years later, during an event commemorating the anniversary of the historical moment in September 1997, then-President Bill Clinton ceremoniously opened the doors for the Little Rock Nine, who were then adults. 

As White House press secretary during the presidency of Donald Trump, Sanders told this reporter she witnessed President Clinton’s honoring of the Little Rock Nine as a student herself at Central High School. Sanders described it as one of the most impactful moments of her life to witness as a student of the school and the daughter of then-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Now, Sanders is leading an administration restricting an interdisciplinary studies program connected to that storied history. Jones, her former gubernatorial opponent, said her decision was a “rushed” one. “What’s next?” he queried. 

Jones told theGrio that he is considering another run against Sanders when her term ends.

The College Board is said to have researched and pulled together some of the best scholars in African-American studies to create the curriculum. However, in the fall, there will be a review of the program. That review was previously planned before its collapse in Arkansas.

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