What Led to the Resistance
The decision by the district illustrates some of the widespread discomfort that frontline educators have with a new crop of curriculum laws that seek to tamp down on discussions about racism, gender nonconformity and sexuality.
In Arkansas, a new law aims to ban “teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies” such as critical race theory. The same legislation weakened teachers’ tenure protections, which has raised the stakes in the confrontation with the state over African American studies.
The education department said the A.P. class might not carry state credit toward high school graduation and that students would not receive state assistance with test fees.
In a statement, the Little Rock School District said it would ensure that students would not be burdened by those fees, which are generally $98 per A.P. exam.
Colleges typically require a score of at least 3 out of 5 on those exams to grant credit. Little Rock Central High School, which is offering the class, serves about 2,500 students, half of whom are Black.
“A.P. African American Studies will allow students to explore the complexities, contributions and narratives that have shaped the African American experience throughout history, including Central High School’s integral connection,” the district said.
Educators offering the class “are very scared, ” said April Reisma, president of the Arkansas Education Association, the teachers’ union. “They can be let go at any moment for any reason.”
She lauded what she called the “bold” choice to move forward with the course and said her union would continue to argue to the state that A.P. African American studies is a rigorous, fact-based class protected under the law, and not an example of ideology or opinion.
The Arkansas Department of Education did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Little Rock’s decision to move forward with the class. Earlier in the week, a spokeswoman for Gov. Huckabee Sanders pointed out that the state already offered an African American history course and that the A.P. class was still considered a pilot program.
A School District With History
In 1957, a group of nine Black teenagers, escorted by the U.S. National Guard, integrated Little Rock Central High School as white protesters spit and jeered. Governor Huckabee Sanders is a graduate of the school, and has spoken proudly of its legacy.
Ivory Toldson, education director of the NAACP, said he participated in a conference call Wednesday with five members of the Little Rock Nine, who expressed dismay with the state’s opposition to A.P. African American studies and were planning a joint response.
“They are living history and have experienced the things that people are trying to whitewash out of the curriculum,” said Dr. Toldson, who is also a professor at Howard University.
The A.P. African American studies curriculum has not been finalized, and it’s unclear whether the course will be offered broadly in the many conservative states that have passed laws restricting how race is taught.
The class has drawn debate since it officially rolled out in February. It emerged then that the College Board, the nonprofit that runs the A.P. program, had revised the course in response to objections from the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, the Republican presidential candidate who has helped lead the charge to restrict teaching on race, gender and sexuality.
After an outcry from scholars of Black studies who saw the changes as censoring their discipline, the College Board said the course would undergo another round of revisions before a final version would be released publicly later this year.
According to the College Board, 700 schools will pilot the class this academic year, and 200 colleges have agreed to accept credit for the course.