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College Board slams Florida officials for comments on African American Studies course

Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference on Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami.
Marta Lavandier
Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference on Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami.

Updated February 13, 2023 at 5:18 PM ET

The College Board hit back over the weekend at top Florida officials over the state's ban on a new AP African American Studies course that's being piloted in several states, while Florida's governor on Monday suggested the state could "reevaluate" its relationship with the organization.

In a lengthy statement released Saturday, the national education nonprofit said it should have more quickly addressed claims by Florida's Department of Education that the course was indoctrinating students and lacked educational value, which the College Board called "slander."

The organization also said that Florida's public and private objections had no bearing on changes the College Board made to the final curriculum of the course, which it released earlier this month.

"Florida is attempting to claim a political victory by taking credit retroactively for changes we ourselves made but that they never suggested to us," the College Board said in a statement.

"While it has been claimed that the College Board was in frequent dialogue with Florida about the content of AP African American Studies, this is a false and politically motivated charge," the statement said. "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."

In a press conference Monday, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the College Board of inserting "neo-Marxism" into the proposed course curriculum and said the inclusion of certain concepts, such as intersectionality and queer theory, ran afoul of Florida's standards.

"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," he said.

DeSantis' office said it had cited several concepts in the course as conflicting with Florida law, and many of those concepts were not included in the final version of the course curriculum.

DeSantis said the College Board has "provided these AP courses for a long time. But you know, there are probably some other vendors who may be able to do that job as good or maybe even a lot better."

"I've already talked with [Republican Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives] Paul [Renner], and I think the legislature's going to look to reevaluate [the relationship]," he added.

The African American Studies course is the latest addition to the College Board's Advanced Placement, or AP, program, which allows high school students to take classes for college credit.

In January, the Florida Department of Education rejected the new course, with DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin saying it was a "vehicle for a political agenda."

Florida's Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. called the course "woke indoctrination masquerading as education."

DeSantis has signed a number of laws recently that restrict what can be taught in Florida schools. One such law – officially called the "Parental Rights in Education" law but dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by critics – bans classroom discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity under certain circumstances. Another law, known as the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, limits how issues of race can be taught.

The College Board said on Saturday that it should have come out more strongly against the criticisms by Florida officials sooner and that its "failure to raise our voice betrayed Black scholars everywhere and those who have long toiled to build this remarkable field."

The organization clarified that the course framework is only an outline, and certain controversial topics such as Black Lives Matter were always optional in the pilot program and not required to be taught.

The College Board reserved some of its strongest language for Florida officials themselves, who it said made "audacious claims" about getting the College Board to change the course curriculum but in reality offered no concrete suggestions to the organization when given multiple chances during months of correspondence.

"We have made the mistake of treating FDOE with the courtesy we always accord to an education agency, but they have instead exploited this courtesy for their political agenda," the organization said in its statement. "After each written or verbal exchange with them, as a matter of professional protocol, we politely thanked them for their feedback and contributions, although they had given none."

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Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]