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Arkansas education secretary says state to review districts’ AP African American Studies materials

Aug 21, 2023, 4:22 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ top education official on Monday told school districts offering an Advanced Placement African American Studies course to send in their course materials for review, citing concerns the class may not comply with a state law restricting how race is taught in the classroom.

Education Secretary Jacob Oliva sent the letter to the five districts that have said they will continue teaching the class after the state said it was not an approved course and would not count toward a student’s graduation credit.

Oliva has said since it’s a pilot program, the state has not been able to vet the course to determine if it complies with the law prohibiting “critical race theory” from being taught at schools.

The state had previously said the districts could offer the course as a local elective. The districts have said they’ll continue teaching the course at six schools and that it will count toward students’ grade point averages.

“Given some of the themes included in the pilot, including ‘intersections of identity’ and ‘resistance and resilience’ the Department is concerned the pilot may not comply with Arkansas law, which does not permit teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as Critical Race Theory,” Oliva wrote in the letter. The letter was first reported by the Arkansas Advocate website.

Oliva’s letter asked the districts to send assurances that the course materials will not violate state law or rules, and to submit materials such as the syllabus, training materials and textbooks. He asked the districts to respond by noon on Sept. 8.

The state’s announcement that the course would not count toward graduation has prompted criticism from the NAACP and Black lawmakers, who say the state is sending the wrong message.

Arkansas and other Republican-led states have placed restrictions on how race is taught in the classroom. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, earlier this year blocked high schools in his state from teaching the AP African American Studies course.

The College Board website describes the course as interdisciplinary, touching on literature, arts, humanities, political science, geography and science. The pilot program debuted last school year at 60 schools across the country, and it was set to expand to more this year.

The College Board said Monday that the course’s framework has been available for public review since Feb. 1 and said teachers use the framework to develop their own curriculum and instruction for their classes.

The College Board said the course “is not indoctrination, plain and simple.”

“AP teachers are experienced and highly skilled professionals,” the College Board said in a statement. “We are fully confident in their abilities to teach this course in complete compliance without any indoctrination.”

A spokeswoman for Little Rock School District, one of the districts teaching the course, said officials there were reviewing Oliva’s letter. The district is offering the course at Little Rock Central High School, site of the 1957 racial desegregation crisis.

The Jacksonville North Pulaski School District declined to comment, and eStem Charter Schools said it was getting guidance about the request. The North Little Rock and Jonesboro school districts did not immediately respond Monday afternoon.

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Arkansas education secretary says state to review districts’ AP African American Studies materials