03:06 - Source: CNN
Sellers calls out DeSantis administration for blocking African American studies course
CNN  — 

The testing organization behind a new college-level African American studies course for high schoolers is hitting back at Florida officials’ comments about the Advanced Placement class, accusing the state Education Department of “slander” and spreading misinformation about it for political gain.

The College Board also admitted it “made mistakes in the rollout” of the course framework “that are being exploited,” according to a lengthy statement published Saturday. And it disputed how Florida officials – who have asked that the course be resubmitted for consideration after initially rejecting it – have characterized their dialogue and influence with the testing non-profit.

“There is always debate about the content of a new AP course. That is good and healthy; these courses matter. But the dialogue surrounding AP African American Studies has moved from healthy debate to misinformation,” the statement said, citing the administration of Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

“We deeply regret not immediately denouncing the Florida Department of Education’s slander, magnified by the DeSantis administration’s subsequent comments, that African American Studies ‘lacks educational value,’” it said. “Our failure to raise our voice betrayed Black scholars everywhere and those who have long toiled to build this remarkable field.”

The College Board’s statement comes after the Florida Education Department asserted the AP African American Studies course “lacks educational value” and violates state law amid a national debate over how topics like racism and history are taught in public schools. Under DeSantis, Florida has banned the teaching of critical race theory and passed new legislation barring instruction that suggests anyone is privileged or oppressed based on their race or skin color.

DeSantis last month said the state was rejecting the course because it imposed a “political agenda,” with a preliminary framework that included the study of “queer theory” and political movements that advocate for “abolishing prisons.”

“That’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards,” the governor said at a news conference. “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them when you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”

DeSantis doubled down Monday in response to a reporter’s question about the College Board’s statement.

“Our Department of Education looked at that and said: In Florida, we do education not indoctrination, and so that runs afoul of our standards,” he said at a news conference in Naples. “We were just the only ones that had the backbone to stand up and do it – because they call you names and they demagogue you when you do it.

“But look, I’m so sick of people not doing what’s right because they’re worried that people are going to call them names. We’re doing what’s right here.”

The state Education Department had concerns about six topics of study in the yearlong course, such as the Movement for Black Lives, Black feminism and reparations, it earlier told CNN. Many of the objections were tied to the inclusion of texts from modern Black thought leaders and history teachers, whose writings the DeSantis administration believes violate state laws, it said.

The College Board later released the official framework for the course with many of the topics DeSantis objected to removed. Under the official framework, students can study those topics as part of a required research project.

Testing non-profit disputes state’s take on exchanges

The Florida Education Department last week said it had met several times and exchanged emails over months with the College Board to discuss the course and was “grateful” to see the changes, according to a letter it wrote to the testing organization. The department asked the board to resubmit the class for consideration and indicated it had not yet decided whether to approve it.

The College Board, however, denied that characterization of the exchanges, calling it “a false and politically motivated charge,” according to its statement Saturday.

“In Florida’s effort to engineer a political win, they have claimed credit for the specific changes we made to the official framework,” the College Board said. “In their February 7, 2023, letter to us, which they leaked to the media within hours of sending, Florida expresses gratitude for the removal of 19 topics, none of which they ever asked us to remove, and most of which remain in the official framework.”

The College Board reached out to Florida officials for details about how the proposed course framework violated state law but didn’t receive any of that information in subsequent phone calls with the department, the testing organization said.

“These phone calls with FDOE were absent of substance, despite the audacious claims of influence FDOE is now making,” the College Board’s statement reads. “In the discussion, they did not offer feedback but instead asked vague, uninformed questions like, ‘What does the word ‘intersectionality’ mean?’ and ‘Does the course promote Black Panther thinking?’”

“We had no negotiations about the content of this course with Florida or any other state, nor did we receive any requests, suggestions, or feedback,” the statement said.

In the wake of the debate, Florida’s relationship with the College Board – which also administers the SAT college admissions test – may change, DeSantis said Monday.

“I think the legislature is going to look to reevaluate, kind of, how Florida” selects vendors for college-credit courses, he said. “Of course, our universities can or can’t accept College Board courses for credit, and maybe they’ll do others.

“And then also just whether our universities do the SATs versus the ACT. I think they do both, but we’re gonna evaluate kind of how all that, that process goes. But at the end of the day, we highlighted things that were very problematic.”

College Board acknowledges mistakes

The College Board stressed its commitment to AP African American Studies is “unwavering” and admitted it should have spoken up sooner to counter statements from Florida officials, its statement reads.

The College Board also should have made clear the course framework is an outline meant to be filled in with scholarly articles and video lectures, it said. “This error triggered a conversation about erasing or eliminating Black thinkers. The vitriol aimed at these scholars is repulsive and must stop,” the non-profit said.

The statement praised the work of teachers and students involved in piloting the course and noted teachers in some states have more room to maneuver in their studies than others.

“But we must resist the narrative that teachers in states with restrictions are not doing exceptional work with their students, introducing them to so much and preparing them for so much more,” the statement said.

“By filling the course with concrete examples of the foundational concepts in this discipline, we have given teachers the flexibility to teach the essential content without putting their livelihoods at risk.”

CNN’s Kit Maher contributed to this report.