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College Board says it erred in not quickly pushing back on ‘slander’ by Florida over AP history course

The company said its commitment to the African American studies course is "unwavering."
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The College Board said it made an error in not “immediately denouncing the Florida Department of Education’s slander” of its African American Studies course after the department deemed that the advanced high school course “lacks educational value.”

“Our failure to raise our voice betrayed Black scholars everywhere and those who have long toiled to build this remarkable field,” the company said in an extensive statement released Sunday to “clear the air and set the record straight.”

It called attacks “on Black scholars repulsive” and said “they must stop.”

This controversy began on Jan. 12, when the Florida Department of Education sent a letter to the College Board saying the course “could not be approved as written.”

“The content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law, and significantly lacks educational value," the department said.

Brooklyn Preparatory High School’s African American studies AP course in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Oct. 19, 2022.
Brooklyn Preparatory High School’s African American studies AP course in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Oct. 19, 2022.Marc J. Franklin / NBC News

On Feb. 1, to open Black History Month, the College Board published its final course framework, but it was devoid of critical race theory, intersectionality and other topics Florida had objected to. The board said the changes were not in response to Florida’s remarks, but rather edits that had been made before Florida expressed its concerns.

“Our commitment to AP African American Studies is unwavering,” the College Board’s statement begins. “This will be the most rigorous, cohesive immersion that high school students have ever had in this discipline. Many more students than ever before will go on to deepen their knowledge in African American Studies programs in college.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has led the charge over the last two years, also advocating against the teaching of critical race theory while also passing legislation that prevents teaching that suggests a race is oppressed or privileged. 

DeSantis seemed unfazed by the College Board’s most recent statement.

“Our Department of Education looked at that and said: ‘In Florida, we do education, not indoctrination,’ and so that runs afoul of our standards,” he said at a news conference on Monday. “We were just the only ones that had the backbone to stand up and do it — because they call you names and they demagogue you when you do it. But look, I’m so sick of people not doing what’s right because they’re worried that people are going to call them names. We’re doing what’s right here.”

Previously, DeSantis said the course was rejected because its framework was on “the wrong side of the line for Florida standards. We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them. When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”

Many disagree, including Black parents who told NBC News they are adjusting to the broader new policies in Florida by teaching their children Black history at home.

The College Board admitted that its rollout of the course was flawed, but that the discourse around the course has been distorted. 

“There is always debate about the content of a new AP course,” the statement said.

“That is good and healthy; these courses matter. But the dialogue surrounding AP African American Studies has moved from healthy debate to misinformation. We are proud of this course. But we have made mistakes in the rollout that are being exploited.” 

The mistake was that it did not express that the rollout was only “the outline of the course, still to be populated by the scholarly articles, video lectures, and practice questions that we assemble and make available to all AP teachers in the summer for free and easy assignment to their students. This error triggered a conversation about erasing or eliminating Black thinkers.”

The teaching of issues like Black Lives Matter and reparations were among the topics Florida’s Department of Education expressed concerns about.

But the College Board said such “contemporary events like the Black Lives Matter movement, reparations, and mass incarceration were optional topics in the pilot course. Our lack of clarity allowed the narrative to arise that political forces had ‘downgraded’ the role of these contemporary movements and debates in the AP class.”

Throughout the controversy, the College Board said it had little contact with the Florida Department of Education about the course’s content beyond “transactional” emails “

“Our response to their request that the College Board explain why we believe the course is not in violation of Florida laws,” the statement said.“We had no negotiations about the content of this course with Florida or any other state, nor did we receive any requests, suggestions, or feedback.”

The state Education Department did not respond to a request for comment.