Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is facing criticism after his administration rejected an Advanced Placement African American Studies course from being taught in Florida schools, the latest curriculum-related action by the governor to draw fierce backlash.
The DeSantis administration made the move earlier this month, when it sent a letter to the College Board Florida Partnership arguing that “the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” The letter didn’t name which law the course purportedly violated, and the state’s Department of Education did not clarify that matter when asked by The Hill.
The action has drawn heavy criticism, with Democratic legislators and LGBTQ advocates likening it to DeSantis’s recent crusade against Florida schools teaching lessons related to sexual orientation or gender identity — topics state officials have argued are inappropriate for children.
“Florida is doing its best to tilt the scales and shut down important, much-needed discussions of race, slavery, stolen lands, and undeniable history that have led to where we are as a society today,” Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones (D), the state’s first openly gay senator, said Thursday in a statement. “Gov. DeSantis’ whitewashing of history and book bans are his latest assault on American history and our First Amendment rights. Horrifyingly, it is our vulnerable and underrepresented students who will suffer the most as a result.”
A February 2022 Quinnipiac University poll found that only 27 percent of Americans felt the U.S. history taught in schools reflects an accurate account of the role of African Americans in the country. The new Advanced Placement course, which is currently a pilot program in 60 schools nationwide, had been in the works for over a decade, according to the College Board.
Ivory Toldson, the NAACP Director of Education Innovation and Research, condemned Florida’s rejection of the course.
“Ron DeSantis’ flippant dismissal of an AP African American Studies course is not only a dereliction of his duty to ensure equitable education for all Floridians, but shows clear disdain for the lives and experiences that form part of our national history,” Toldson said in a statement on Friday.
“Dismissing this important subject as lacking “educational value” defies centuries of evidence to the contrary. African American history is American history, and failure to comprehend this very simple fact is un-American in and of itself.”
But Florida’s rejection of the course follows a pattern from last year, when DeSantis signed the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act into law. The law, known as the Stop WOKE Act, prohibits any instruction that could make someone feel “personal responsibility” for historic wrongdoings because of their race, sex or national origin.
In unveiling the legislative proposal last year, DeSantis said the measure was drafted with the intent of “taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory” — an academic theory that addresses systemic racism in the U.S.
But scholars have argued that concepts related to critical race theory are not taught until students reach the college level.
“Remember when we were told they weren’t opposing the teaching of Black history, just ‘CRT’? And how many dismissed those of us who said these laws were anti-history laws, and anti-Black? Perhaps one day folks will listen to those who know,” Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of The New York Times’s 1619 Project, wrote on Twitter.
Hannah-Jones’s program, which puts the repercussions of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the forefront of the national narrative, has been banned in Florida classrooms.
“Our history has long been treated as illegitimate,” Hannah-Jones said. “It has always been contested.”
In a statement to The Hill, DeSantis’s office identified the Department of Education’s key concerns with the course, including the topics of intersectionality, Black Queer Studies, the Black Lives Matter movement, Black Feminist Literary Thought and the reparations movement and the Black Study and Black Struggle in the 21st Century.
They also identify key readings by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the “founder” of intersectionality, Angela Davis, a “self-avowed Communist and Marxist,” Roderick Ferguson, Leslie Kay Jones, bell hooks and Robin D.G. Kelly.
“As submitted, the course is a vehicle for a political agenda and leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow,” said Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’s press secretary. “As Governor DeSantis has stated, our classrooms will be a place for education, not indoctrination.”
The governor, who is seen as a top GOP contender for the 2024 presidential election, was sworn in for his second term on Jan. 3. During his inauguration speech, he highlighted the educational reforms his administration passed in his first term.
“Florida is No. 1 in education freedom and we rank No. 1 in parental involvement in education,” DeSantis said. “We must ensure school systems are responsive to parents and to students, not partisan interest groups, and we must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of trendy ideology.
“Florida must always be a great place to raise a family – we will enact more family-friendly policies to make it easier to raise children and we will defend our children against those who seek to rob them of their innocence,” he added.
Jones, the Florida state senator, tweeted on Friday that Florida had become a state where you “Don’t Say Black” — a reference to a new Florida education law known to its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law for its heavy restrictions on how LGBTQ issues and identities can be addressed in the classroom.
New York Rep. Ritchie Torres (D) — currently the member of Congress who is both Black and openly gay — similarly tweeted: “Florida has gone from Don’t Say Gay to Don’t Say Black.”
Officially titled the “Parental Rights in Education” law, the measure, which went into effect in July, prohibits public primary school teachers from engaging in classroom instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Educators through high school are barred from addressing either subject in a manner that is not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for their students, though neither term has been given a concrete definition.
Florida teachers who violate the law risk having their licenses suspended or revoked under a rule adopted by the state Board of Education in October.
But restrictive curriculum laws — particularly ones pertaining to LGBTQ subjects — are mostly unpopular among the American public.
In March, an ABC News-Ipsos poll found that more than 60 percent of adults oppose legislation seeking to bar elementary school teachers from addressing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.
Americans are more split on whether such lessons should be taught through high school, however, and a May Morning Consult survey found that while 41 percent of American parents support teaching or discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in K-12 classrooms, 44 percent are opposed.
— Updated Jan. 21 at 11:44 a.m.