The Arkansas Education Department abruptly removed course credit for an Advanced Placement African American Studies course, just months after Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed bills limiting what educators can teach in public schools.
The AP African American Studies course won’t be eligible for early college credit this school year, Kimberly Mundell, the Education Department’s communications director, confirmed. Teachers may offer the curriculum, but the class won’t be weighted the same on students’ grade point averages as other AP courses offered in the state, reported the Arkansas Times, a monthly Little Rock newspaper.
"The department encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination," she said in a statement.
Mundell told local KHBS-TV of Fort Smith that the class was being piloted at some Arkansas schools and is still undergoing revisions.
“Arkansas law contains provisions regarding prohibited topics,” she told KHBS, referring to state education restrictions. “Without clarity, we cannot approve a pilot that may unintentionally put a teacher at risk of violating Arkansas law.”
The news comes amid a national shift in education systems as several states restrict what educators can teach about race, gender and sexuality. Sanders has championed limits on education in the state. In March, she signed the LEARNS Act into law, restricting classroom lessons about gender identity and sexual orientation. The policy had been ushered in by Jacob Oliva, the state’s education secretary, in February. In January, Sanders signed an executive order banning “indoctrination and critical race theory” in schools.
Alexa Henning, the communications director for the governor’s office, sent NBC News a thread of her tweets as her official statement on the matter. Henning reiterated Mundell’s comments that the class is not a history course. She added that “the pilot may not meet graduation requirements and does not comply with the rules of the department’s AP program like other vetted” courses.
“There is currently an African American History class students can receive credit for,” she continued. “The department encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination.”
A photo shared and circulated on social media appeared to show that the course had been “deleted” from the department’s Course Code Management System. Kandys Triplett, who oversees the system for the department, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The College Board, a nonprofit organization that oversees AP courses and administers the SATs, was piloting its AP African American Studies course at 60 schools across the country this year, including in Arkansas. Holly Stepp, a spokesperson, said in a statement that the College Board has long had a good relationship with the Arkansas Education Department. Six schools, including Little Rock’s Central High School, were scheduled to use the program this school year.
“On this first day of school, we share in their surprise, confusion, and disappointment at this new guidance that the course won’t count toward graduation credits or weighted the same as other AP courses offered in the state,” Stepp said Monday. “College Board is committed to providing an unflinching encounter with the facts of African American history and culture, and rejects the notion that the AP African American Studies course is indoctrination in any form.”
The College Board came under fire this year for including Black Lives Matter, Black queer studies and reparations in its course. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blocked the AP African American Studies curriculum from being taught, saying it was “historically inaccurate” and violated state law.
The College Board then drew criticism for appearing to back down and remove much of the content Florida complained about. The group later reiterated its commitment to AP African American studies and clarified that it had not downplayed the importance of topics like Black Lives Matter, mass incarceration and reparations in the curriculum.
“We deeply regret not immediately denouncing the Florida Department of Education’s slander, magnified by the DeSantis administration’s subsequent comments, that African American Studies ‘lacks educational value,’” the group said in a statement on its website in February.
“Our failure to raise our voice betrayed Black scholars everywhere and those who have long toiled to build this remarkable field,” it said.
The Little Rock School District, which oversees Central High School, said in a statement that district officials learned of the change only over the weekend. Superintendent Jermall Wright is speaking with state education officials to “explore options that will allow our students to fully benefit from this course despite ADE’s decision.” ADE is the Arkansas Department of Education.
“At this time, we are weighing the options provided to us with the staff at Central High School and will decide 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.”