Black studies get a boost even as educators witness restrictions in other states

Three districts Virginia will offer AP African American Studies even as the state's governor reviews the course.

Some states and school districts are ramping up Black studies curriculums as political leaders in parts of the country are restricting or banning the subject.

Leaders in at least three districts in Virginia say they plan to offer the AP African American Studies course that, despite having been piloted for over a year in school systems around the U.S., didn’t cause much controversy until Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibited it in his state. The Arlington, Caroline and Fairfax county school districts will adopt AP African American Studies even as the course is reviewed by the state governor’s office, The Washington Post reports.

“We are really, really excited about it and proud of the fact that we are one of the schools to pilot this program,” Craig Reed, director of secondary instruction for Caroline County Public Schools, told The Free Lance-StarThe AP course will be taught by the same teacher who teaches Caroline High School’s African American History elective, all three sections of which are full, Reed said.

The College Board was accused of narrowing AP African American Studies after DeSantis lashed out but the organization denied having trimmed the scope of the course based on the governor’s complaints. The College Board said DeSantis and members of his administration had demanded the exclusion of elements, including several Black authors, that were never mandated in the pilot course.

“Contemporary scholars and authors are never mandated in any AP framework,” the College Board wrote in a letter sent to the Florida Department of Education last month. “Instead, the AP Program utilizes our AP Classroom digital library to provide such resources, where teachers are free to assign readings but are not required to do so.”

Virginia educators have “a moral obligation” to teach students an accurate history, four members of the Fairfax County School Board wrote in response to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s plans to further vet AP African American Studies. “This action follows a disturbing national trend of attempts to restrict teaching and learning,” school board member Stella Pekarsky said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. “From banning books to baseless attacks on hard-working educators, public education faces many attacks, and this action leaves no doubt that those threats have reached Virginia.”

Black studies boosters

The nation’s largest school district will expand its Asian and Black studies courses in “a handful of classrooms” at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, The New York Times reported. In September, New York City schools will encourage but not yet mandate these new social studies lessons that highlight underrepresented groups, The Times pointed out.

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Amidst the furor over AP African American Studies earlier this year, New Jersey officials announced an expansion of the course, from one high school to 26 in the 2023-2024 academic year. “As governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis prioritize political culture wars ahead of academic success, New Jersey will proudly teach our kids that Black History is American History,” Gov. Phil Murphy said last month. “We will set an example for the nation by demonstrating to our future leaders that our country is the greatest in the world because it is a work in progress, a promise, and an ideal we strive to achieve.”

In Ohio, Cincinnati Public Schools will offer AP African American Studies at four high schools next fall. Educators there simply want to present students with a wider scope of U.S. history, Shakeatha Butler, Cincinnati Public Schools’ chief academic officer, told “I just think the more that we know about each other, the more we understand that we’re more alike than we are different,” Butler noted.

And teachers in Baltimore told a local news outlet that they won’t limit what or who they teach about regardless of any revisions to A.P. African American Studies. They feel confident they can introduce students to any and all Black theorists and authors. “I am not concerned, maybe because I am here at this school,” Baltimore Polytechnic Institute teacher Patrice Fraser told the Baltimore Banner. “I am concerned for teachers in other districts, where education is under attack.”

John Billingslea, Baltimore County Public Schools’ director of social studies, said teachers and students “love” AP African American Studies, which is now being piloted by two teachers while 21 high schools also want to adopt the course. He described the class the Baltimore Banner as a “factual accounting of history that is inclusive and enlists the voice of all people.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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