Tommy Metthe/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP
Students head to Little Rock Central High School on Monday, August 24, 2020, for the first day of classes in the Little Rock School District.
Arkansas public high school students enrolled in a controversial Advanced Placement African American Studies course cannot receive credit toward graduation, state education officials told districts last week.
The guidance from the Arkansas Department of Education comes as teachers and students across the state prepare to start the school year on Monday.
Several high schools — including Central High School in Little Rock, which was once the center of a historic struggle to desegregate schools — plan to offer the course this school year.
However, According to the Arkansas TimesA state education official told high school teachers by phone Friday that the department would not approve the course for credit.
Arkansas Department of Education spokeswoman Kimberly Mundell said in an email to CNN on Tuesday that it “encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses that are not based on concepts or teachings.”
The move by the Department of Education follows Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders Signed the executive order In January it banned “teaching and critical race theory in schools”.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs an education overhaul bill into law Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)
It comes amid similar efforts by Republican leaders in other states to limit what can be included in black history education. Earlier this year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis rejected the AP African American Studies curriculum because it included lessons on reparations, Black Queer Studies and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ali Noland, a Little Rock school board member and attorney, said the curriculum is “the antithesis of teaching.”
“This course is an essential and important part of American history, but it’s about giving students an original document so they can learn critical thinking skills to interpret and make their own decisions about these topics,” Noland told CNN.
The College Board initially tried to revise the curriculum, but the decision sparked outrage among educators and activists, who said students should learn the “full history” of the black experience in America.
Alexa Henning, spokeswoman for Sanders he tweeted on Monday AP African American Studies “may not meet graduation requirements and may not conform to the rules of the department’s AP program like other validated subjects.”
Henning added, “Students are not offered an exam during the 22-23 school year, and the coursework may not be expressed in college credit.”
He noted that there is another African American history course that students can take for credit.
The Little Rock school district said in a statement late last week that the state Department of Education would “only award local credits for coursework.”
The district said it is exploring options to allow students to still benefit from the course despite the state’s decision.
“At this time, we are weighing the options presented to us with staff at Central High School and will decide on next steps within 24-48 hours,” the statement said. “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.”
Central High School gained national attention in 1957 when nine black students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” enrolled at the school, marking the landmark Brown v. Desegregated public schools unconstitutional to review Board of Education ruling. On the first day of school, students were met by an angry white mob rejecting integrated schools and the National Guard blocking the entrance.
“Nowhere do I think the study of this history is more important than in the classroom at Little Rock Central High School, a National Historic Site based on American history and its role in the Civil Rights Movement,” Noland said.
The AP African American Studies course was offered in 60 high schools last school year.
According to the College BoardThe pilot course is slated to expand to hundreds of additional high schools this school year, with the first courses beginning in the spring of 2024. The course will be available to all schools in the 2024-25 academic year.
According to Noland, nearly 100 students enrolled at Central High this school year.
“We want to give our students every opportunity,” Noland said. “Other students in other states can take AP courses and get all the benefits — things like getting college credit and weighted GPAs — and here in Arkansas now because of this decision, the only students who can take these courses are students who can have their degree loan waived for a year of such courses.
The Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus released a statement Monday expressing “outrage” at the Department of Education’s 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.