Arkansas Warns School Districts Not to Offer A.P. African American Studies

What’s New

In the latest conflict between the College Board and conservative policymakers, the Arkansas Department of Education warned schools on Monday — the first day of classes in many districts — not to offer Advanced Placement African American Studies.

Like Florida, which refused to approve the class, the department suggested that the course violated state law. In Arkansas, new legislation, passed in March, prohibits “teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies” such as critical race theory.

Why It Matters

In Little Rock, students at Central High School — the site of a battle for school desegregation in 1957 — had already enrolled in the Advanced Placement course when the district received word from the state over the weekend that it could be offered only for “local credit.”

That appears to mean that the state will not help students at six high schools pay the $98 fee to take the end-of-course A.P. exam, which is necessary if students wish to earn college credit for the class.

In addition, according to a statement from the state, the course “may not meet graduation requirements.”

In a statement, the Little Rock School District said that it would “explore options that will allow our students to fully benefit from this course” despite the decision, and that it would “decide the next steps within 24 to 48 hours.”

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas signed legislation in March that takes aim at critical race theory. But it also includes language protecting instruction on the history of race, ethnicity and sex.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

A Rocky Start

A.P. African American Studies has had a tumultuous journey since its official rollout in February, when it emerged that the College Board had revised the course’s content. The nonprofit, which administers the A.P. program, had heard objections to the class from the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Republican presidential candidate who has battled what he sees as leftist ideology in schools.

African American studies is interdisciplinary, encompassing concepts from history, sociology, politics, legal studies, arts and culture. But the College Board removed or watered down key subjects and concepts from the course framework, such as critical race theory and mass incarceration. After an outcry from scholars, the nonprofit — a behemoth in education — acknowledged mistakes in its dealings with the DeSantis administration, saying it would revise the course yet again to ensure students received “the most holistic possible introduction to African American studies.”

It is not yet clear what the final course will look like, and whether it will be broadly offered in the many right-leaning states that have so far passed laws restricting how subjects such as race and gender can be discussed in schools.

In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a Republican, signed legislation in March that takes aim at critical race theory. But it also includes language protecting instruction on the history of race, ethnicity and sex, and it remains legal for teachers to discuss “public policy issues of the day and related ideas that individuals may find unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive.”

But like similar laws in Florida and dozens of other states, the somewhat vague language is subject to interpretation.

The Arkansas Department of Education declined to answer specific questions about its objections to the class. Its statement on Monday emphasized that the course “is not a history course.”

The state superintendent is Jacob Oliva, who was previously a senior education official in Florida under Mr. DeSantis.

On Twitter, Alexa Henning, the communications director for Gov. Huckabee Sanders, said the state already offers an African American history class and that it “encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination.”

The College Board said in a statement that it had previously worked productively with Arkansas, and it expressed “surprise, confusion, and disappointment” in the state’s recent move.

The College Board said it “rejects the notion that the A.P. African American studies course is indoctrination in any form.” And it pointed out that more than 200 colleges have already agreed to provide credit for the class, including the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the state’s flagship public postsecondary institution.

What’s Next

The conflict in Arkansas illustrates the difficult position the College Board finds itself in as it navigates between the world of higher education, where universities do not want to offer credit for high school classes that do not meet their content standards, and the world of public education, where the curriculum has become increasingly politicized and caught up in culture-war battles.

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