Students threaten to sue DeSantis over rejection of AP course on African American studies

The state rejected the inclusion of an AP course on African American studies.

January 25, 2023, 9:44 PM

Several Florida students say they plan to sue the state and Gov. Ron DeSantis over the state's rejection of the Advanced Placement African American studies course in state schools.

"If he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African American studies to be taught in classrooms across the state of Florida, that these three young people will be the lead plaintiffs," said civil rights attorney Ben Crump at a Wednesday press conference.

The lawsuit is backed by Crump and attorney Craig Whisenhunt, who will be representing three AP honors high school students.

"I realized that I have not learned much about the history or culture of my people outside of my parents and close relatives," one of the students involved in the legal action said at the press conference.

PHOTO: Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump stands with Elijah Edwards, 14, a student at Sail High School during a "Stop The Black Attack" rally against ongoing state legislation at the Florida State Capitol building in Tallahassee, Fla., Jan. 25, 2023.
Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump stands with Elijah Edwards, 14, a student at Sail High School during a "Stop The Black Attack" rally against ongoing state legislation at the Florida State Capitol building in Tallahassee, Fla., Jan. 25, 2023.
Octavio Jones/Reuters

Another student at the press conference argued that DeSantis doesn't have "the right to take this opportunity from thousands of students across the state."

"There are many gaps in American history regarding the African American population," a third student said. "The implementation of an AP African American History class could fill in those gaps."

The governor's office referred questions to the Florida Department of Education.

"This threat is nothing more than a meritless publicity stunt," Florida Department of Education Communications Director Alex Lanfranconi said in a statement to ABC News on Wednesday.

Last year, DeSantis signed the "Stop WOKE" Act into law, restricting race-related conversations and instruction in workplaces, schools and colleges. The law includes a ban on teaching or business practices that contend members of one ethnic group are inherently racist and should feel guilt for past actions committed by others. A federal judge in Florida issued a temporary injunction in November against the act's implementation in higher education, which is still being battled in court.

"We seek normalcy, not philosophical lunacy, we will not allow reality, facts and truth to become optional. We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die," DeSantis said during his Jan. 3 inauguration.

In a letter obtained by ABC News, the state DOE rejected the course, calling it "inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value."

PHOTO: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks after being sworn in to begin his second term during an inauguration ceremony outside the Old Capitol, Jan. 3, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks after being sworn in to begin his second term during an inauguration ceremony outside the Old Capitol, Jan. 3, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Lynne Sladky/AP, File

"If the course comes into compliance and incorporates historically accurate content, the department will reopen the discussion," a Florida DOE official previously told ABC News.

The state DOE said in the letter it was concerned with several topics in the course, including Black Queer studies, intersectionality and activism, Black feminist literary thought and the reparations movement.

At the Wednesday press conference on the potential lawsuit, several state legislators criticized DeSantis for his administration's recent efforts to restrict education on race and diversity.

State Rep. Michele Rayner said that "critical race theory" has become a racist dog whistle used to wipe the stories of racial justice icons like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King from classrooms.

"You cannot say on Monday that you support Dr. King and on Wednesday refuse to tell his story," Rayner said.

The course is currently being piloted in a small number of high schools across the country with plans to roll out the course for any high school that wants it in the 2024-2025 school year, the College Board said. The Advanced Placement Program will release the official framework for the AP African American Studies course on Feb 1 in time for Black History Month, replacing the preliminary pilot course framework.

"The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new AP course, and frameworks often change significantly as a result," the College Board said in a Jan. 20 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. We look forward to bringing this rich and inspiring exploration of African-American history and culture to students across the country."

The College Board has not clarified how the framework that will be released will differ from the framework being piloted or if any of the changes will be a direct response to Florida's concerns about the course.

Lanfranconi of the Florida DOE said, "As Governor DeSantis said, African American History is American History, and we will not allow any organization to use an academic course as a gateway for indoctrination and a political agenda. We look forward to reviewing the College Board’s changes and expect the removal of content on Critical Race Theory, Black Queer Studies, Intersectionality, and other topics that violate our laws."

"The interdisciplinary course reaches into a variety of fields -- literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography and science -- to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans," read a College Board description of the course.

Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. tweeted Friday evening that the AP course was "filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law."

"We proudly require the teaching of African American history. We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education," he continued.

The White House last week called Florida's rejection of the AP African American history course "incomprehensible."

"It is incomprehensible, that -- to see that this is what this band or this block to be more specific, that DeSantis has put forward, if you think about the study of Black Americans, that is what he wants to block," said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at a Jan. 20 briefing.

ABC News' Tesfaye Negussie and Averi Harper contributed to this report.

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