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Arkansas education officials say AP African American Studies program won’t count toward graduation


By Nicquel Terry Ellis

(CNN) — Students in Arkansas public high schools enrolled in the controversial Advanced Placement African American Studies course will not be able to receive credit toward graduation, state education officials told districts last week.

The direction from the Arkansas Department of Education came as teachers and students across the state were preparing to start the school year on Monday.

Several high schools – including Central High School in Little Rock which was once the epicenter of the historic fight to desegregate schools – had plans to offer the course this school year.
But, according to the Arkansas Times, a state education official informed high school teachers by phone on Friday that the department would not recognize the course for credit.

Kimberly Mundell, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Education said in a Tuesday email to CNN her office “encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination.”

The education department’s move comes after Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order in January prohibiting “indoctrination and critical race theory in schools.”

It also comes amid similar efforts by Republican leaders in other states to control what can be included in Black history education. Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected the AP African American Studies course because it included lessons on reparations, Black queer studies and the Movement for Black Lives.

Little Rock School Board member and attorney Ali Noland said the course is the “opposite of indoctrination.”

“This course is an essential and important part of American History, but what it does is provide students with original document so that they can learn the critical thinking skills to be able to interpret and make their own decisions about these topics,” Noland told CNN.

The College Board initially attempted to revise the course framework, but the decision sparked outrage among academics and activists who said students should learn the “full history” of the Black experience in America.

Alexa Henning, a spokesperson for Sanders, tweeted Monday that AP African American Studies “may not meet graduation requirements and does not comply with the rules of the department’s AP program like other vetted course(s).”

Henning also said, “An exam was not offered to students during the 22-23 school year, and the course may not articulate into college credit.”

She noted there was another African American history course that students could receive credit for.

The Little Rock School District said in a statement that it received word this past weekend the state’s Department of Education would “only offer local credit for the course.”

The district said it was exploring options that would allow students to still benefit from the course despite the state’s decision.

“At this time, we are weighing the options provided to us with the staff at Central High School and will decide the next steps within 24-48 hours,” the statement read. “Rest assured, we are actively working to ensure that our students continue to receive a well-rounded education that includes diverse perspectives and meaningful learning opportunities.”

In 1957, Central High School gained national attention when nine Black students known as the “Little Rock Nine” enrolled in the school to test the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared segregated public schools unconstitutional. On their first day of school, the students were met with an angry White mob that rejected integrated schools and the National Guard blocking the entrance.

“I cannot think of anywhere that it is more important to study this history, than in a classroom in Little Rock Central High School, a national historic site based on its role in American history and the Civil Rights movement,” Noland said.

The AP African American Studies course was piloted at 60 high schools last school year.

According to the College Board, the pilot course is set to expand to hundreds of additional high schools this school year, with the first course exams rolling out in the spring of 2024. The course will be made available to all schools in the 2024-25 school year.

Nearly 100 students at Central High were enrolled in the course this school year, according to Noland.

“We want to provide our students with every opportunity,” Noland said. “Other students in other states are able to take AP courses and gain all the benefits – things like obtaining college credit and having weighted GPAs – and here in Arkansas now because of this decision, the only students who might be able to take this course are students who can afford to forgo a graduation credit for a yearlong course like this.”

The Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement Monday expressing “outrage” over the Department of Education decision. “This further perpetuates the marginalization of African Americans and denies all students the opportunity to learn about the unique history and experiences or our community,” the caucus said.

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CNN’s Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.

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