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Florida Rejects A.P. African American Studies Class

MIAMI — Florida will not allow a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies to be offered in its high schools, stating that the course is not “historically accurate” and violates state law.

In a letter last week, the Florida Department of Education informed the College Board, which administers A.P. exams, that it would not include the class in the state’s course directory. Rigorous A.P. courses allow high school students to obtain credit and advanced placement in college.

“As presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value,” the department’s office of articulation, which oversees accelerated programs for high school students, wrote on Jan. 12. In the future, should the College Board “be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE will always be willing to reopen the discussion.”

The letter, with no name attached to it, did not cite which law the course violated or what in the curriculum was objectionable. The department did not respond to questions asking for more details. But last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed legislation that restricted how racism and other aspects of history can be taught in schools and workplaces. The law’s sponsors called it the Stop WOKE Act. Among other things, it prohibits instruction that could make students feel responsibility for or guilt about the past actions of other members of their race.

On Thursday, the College Board said that the A.P. African American studies course was still undergoing a multiyear pilot phase. The course is multidisciplinary and addresses not just history but civil rights, politics, literature, the arts, even geography.

Understand the Debate Over Critical Race Theory

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An ​​expansive academic framework. Critical race theory, or C.R.T, argues that historical patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other modern institutions. The theory says that racism is a systemic problem, not only a matter of individual bigotry.

C.R.T. is not new. Derrick Bell, a pioneering legal scholar who died in 2011, spent decades exploring what it would mean to understand racism as a permanent feature of American life. He is often called the godfather of critical race theory, but the term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s.

The theory has gained new prominence. After the protests born from the police killing of George Floyd, critical race theory resurfaced as part of a backlash among conservatives — including former President Trump — who began to use the term as a political weapon.

The current debate. Critics of C.R.T. argue that it accuses all white Americans of being racist and is being used to divide the country. But critical race theorists say they are mainly concerned with understanding the racial disparities that have persisted in institutions and systems.

A hot-button issue in schools. The debate has turned school boards into battlegrounds as some Republicans say the theory is invading classrooms. Education leaders, including the National School Boards Association, say that C.R.T. is not being taught in K-12 schools.

“The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new A.P. course, and frameworks often change significantly as a result,” the College Board said in a statement. “We will publicly release the updated course framework when it is completed and well before this class is widely available in American high schools.”

Mr. DeSantis, who is widely considered a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination, has repeatedly taken on polarizing culture war issues, including teaching about race and gender. Those stances are popular among many parents and helped him win re-election last year by a wide margin. He pledged when he was sworn into a second term this month that he would continue seeking to make Florida “the land of liberty and the land of sanity.”

Last year, a federal judge blocked part of the Stop WOKE Act — officially named the Individual Freedoms Act — that would have regulated workplace trainings on issues such as race and diversity. But the law still applies to public schools. So does another 2022 law, the Parental Rights in Education Act, which critics call “Don’t Say Gay,” that among other things bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

Some Florida teachers have said they feel as if they are looking over their shoulder, worrying about what and how they can teach.

Even before Mr. DeSantis signed the contentious laws last year restricting what can be taught, his administration rejected dozens of math textbooks for use in public school classrooms, claiming their incorporation of social-emotional learning and critical race theory. The rejection of the new A.P. African American studies course was first reported by National Review.

The course has been tried in 60 high schools across the country, including at least one in Florida. At all schools, students taking part in the course will not receive an A.P. exam score or college credit.

Florida already prohibits schools from teaching “critical race theory,” an academic framework for understanding racism in the United States that was not taught in high schools but became a political rallying cry among parents and political activists on the right.

The state also does not allow educators to teach the 1619 Project, a classroom program that was developed by The New York Times and sought to reframe the country’s history by putting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the national narrative.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., a former chair of Harvard’s department of African and African American studies and director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, who was a consultant to the College Board as it developed the A.P. course, said last year that he hoped the curriculum would not shy away from such debatable topics — not as a framework, but as a way of studying different theories of the African American experience.

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