Tommy Metthe/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP
Students enter Little Rock Central High School on Monday, August 24, 2020 for the first day of classes in the Little Rock School District.
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 prepared 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 — planned to offer the course this school year.
But according to the Arkansas Times, a high school education official informed by phone Friday that the department would not recognize the course for credit.
Kimberly Mundell, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Education said in a Tuesday email to CNN that her office “encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses that are not based on opinion or indoctrination.”
The Education Department’s move comes after Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order in January banning “indoctrination and critical racial theory in schools.”
Arkansas Governor 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 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 Governor 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 documents so 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 tried to revise the course framework, but the decision sparked outrage among academics and activists who said students should learn the “full story” 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 may not adhere to the rules of the department’s AP program like other course(s) reviewed.”
Henning also said, “An exam was not offered to students during the 22-23 school year, and the course may not articulate for college credit.”
She noted that there was another African American history course for which students could receive credit.
The Little Rock School District said in a statement that it received notification last weekend that the state 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 presented to us with the staff at Central High School and will decide on 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” entered the school to challenge the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared segregated public schools unconstitutional. On their first day of school, the students were met by an angry white mob rejecting integrated schools and the National Guard blocking the entrance.
“I can’t think of anywhere that it is more important to study this history than in a classroom at 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 planned 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 give our students every opportunity,” Noland said. “Other students in other states are able to take AP courses and get all the benefits — things like earning college credit and having weighted GPAs — and here in Arkansas now because of this decision, the only students who who might be able to take this course, students who can afford to forgo graduate credit for a year-long course like this.”
The Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement Monday expressing “outrage” at the Department of Education’s decision. “This further continues 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.