LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Little Rock School District said Wednesday it will continue offering an Advanced Placement course on African American studies despite Arkansas education officials saying the class won’t count toward a student’s graduation credit.
The 21,200-student district announced the decision days after the Arkansas Department of Education said the course would not count toward state credit. Education officials have told schools the course couldn’t be part of the state’s advanced placement course offerings because it’s still a pilot program and hasn’t been vetted by the state yet.
The department cited a state law enacted this year that places restrictions on how race is taught in school, but it did not say the course violates those prohibitions.
Little Rock Central High School, site of the historic 1957 racial desegregation crisis, was one of six schools in the state that were slated to offer the course this year.
“We are fortunate to have one of the foremost subject matter experts leading the instruction at Central High School who has expressed that her students are enthusiastic about the opportunity to take the course,” the district said in a statement. “AP 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.”
Arkansas’ move came months after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis blocked Florida high schools from teaching the AP course, saying it violated state law. Arkansas and a number other Republican-led states have imposed limits on how race is taught in the classroom, including prohibitions on critical race theory.
“Until it’s determined whether it violates state law and teaches or trains teachers in CRT (critical race theory) and indoctrination, the state will not move forward,” Arkansas Department of Education spokeswoman Kimberly Mundell said in a statement Wednesday. “The department encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination.”
The College Board revamped its course following Florida’s decision, but it faced criticism that it was bowing to political pressure.
Arkansas education officials have said schools are allowed to offer the course. In its statement, the Little Rock district said the course will be weighted on students’ grade point averages the same as other AP courses.
The district also said it will ensure students won’t have to pay for the AP exam. Because it’s not recognized by the state, Arkansas won’t pay for cost of the exam like it does for other AP courses.
The College Board website describes the course as interdisciplinary, touching on literature, arts, humanities, political science, geography and science. The pilot program debuted last school year at 60 schools across the country, and it was set to expand to more schools this year.
The state’s decision to not recognize the course has prompted criticism from Black lawmakers who have said the move sends the wrong message. The College Board has also said it was disappointed in the state’s decision.
It was not immediately clear whether the course would be offered at the other five schools in the state. The state has said an African American history course counts toward high school credit, though that course is not advanced placement.