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High schoolers threaten to sue DeSantis over ban of African American studies course

Under Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, pictured, the state is enacting a handful of controversial education measures that are attracting national attention.
Octavio Jones
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Under Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, pictured, the state is enacting a handful of controversial education measures that are attracting national attention.

Three Florida high school students are poised to sue Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after the state Education Department rejected a new Advanced Placement course covering African American studies. The news comes one day after the College Board announced it would revise the course.

"By rejecting the African American history pilot program, Ron DeSantis has clearly demonstrated that he wants to dictate whose history does — and doesn't — belong," Democratic state Rep. Fentrice Driskell said at a news conference in Tallahassee, announcing the lawsuit, on Wednesday.

Ben Crump, a high-profile civil rights attorney, said he will file the lawsuit on behalf of the three students if DeSantis does not allow the course to be taught in the state. The course is the latest addition to the AP program, which helps high school students earn college credit.

"This is what it's about, it's about them, this is what the fight is for," Crump said. "Never ever forget that."

While dozens of states are introducing legislation that limits how various topics, including race and American history, can be discussed in public schools, these bills are particularly successful in Florida. Under DeSantis, the state passed his "Stop Woke" act — which lets parents sue teachers, and school districts, over violating limitations the state sets for how race is taught in classrooms — and the Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as "Don't Say Gay," bill — which forbids discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for certain elementary school students.

Following the news of the new African American studies AP course, the state's Education Department swiftly rejected the class. Last week, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. called the course "woke indoctrination masquerading as education."

"As we've said all along, if College Board decides to revise its course to comply with Florida law, we will come back to the table," Diaz added.

The College Board will release a revised course framework on the first day of Black History Month

The College Board announced on Tuesday that it would be revising the course. The organization said it will release "the official framework" for the course on Feb. 1, which it noted is the first day of Black History Month.

"We are glad the College Board has recognized that the originally submitted course curriculum is problematic, and we are encouraged to see the College Board express a willingness to amend," said Alex Lanfranconi, the Florida Department of Education's communications director.

"AP courses are standardized nationwide, and as a result of Florida's strong stance against identity politics and indoctrination, students across the country will consequentially have access to an historically accurate, unbiased course," Lanfranconi added.

When contacted for comment, the College Board did not confirm whether the state's ban of the course is playing a role in its revisions.

"Before a new AP course is made broadly available, it is piloted in a small number of high schools to gather feedback from high schools and colleges," the College Board said in an announcement. "The official course framework incorporates this feedback and defines what students will encounter on the AP Exam for college credit and placement."

In the rally announcing the lawsuit, Driskell commented on the slew of legislation passed in the state, under the leadership of the governor, that limits how race and other topics are discussed in the classroom.

"He wants to say that I do not belong," said Driskell, who is Black. "He wants to say that you don't belong and whose story does — and doesn't — get to count. But we are here to tell him: We are America."

Three AP honors high school students, who were present at the conference, will serve as the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.