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Civil rights leaders threaten lawsuit if Florida does not allow AP African American Studies course

The Florida Department of Education requires the study of African American history but says this specific course "lacks educational value."

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Governor Ron Desantis and the state of Florida could soon face a lawsuit if they do not allow an AP African American Studies course to be taught in high schools, attorney Ben Crump said on Wednesday in Tallahassee.

“We are here to give notice to Governor DeSantis that if he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African American Studies to be taught in the classrooms across the state of Florida that these three young people will be the lead plaintiffs in a historic lawsuit,” Crump said.

Crump was joined by three students and attorney Craig Whisenhunt of Pinellas Park.

“Governor DeSantis decided to deny the potentially life-changing class and effectively censor the freedom of our education and shield us from the truths of our ancestors. I can’t believe that this is 2023, and America is talking about censoring education,” 10th-grade student Elijah Edwards said.

Several Tampa Bay area politicians also spoke at the rally, including Reps. Fentrice Driskell, Dianne Hart and Michele Rayner.

"Ron DeSantis clearly wants to dictate whose story does and doesn't belong," Driskell said. "What we don't need is a governor who is so obsessed with 'woke' that he is asleep at the wheel."

The announcement of a possible lawsuit came after DeSantis' administration rejected an AP African American Studies course, saying it “lacked educational value.”

In response, Florida Department of Education Communications Director Alex Lanfranconi said, "this threat is nothing more than a meritless publicity stunt."

A Jan. 12 letter from Florida’s Office of Articulation said, “as presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

DeSantis doubled down on this stance during an earlier news conference in which he called the proposed course "indoctrination, not education."  

Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz later said in a tweet,"…Florida rejected an AP course 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.”

The state said if parts of the course are revised, it will revisit offering the course to high school students.

In reaction to the news, Clearwater/Upper Pinellas NAACP President Zebbie Atkinson IV told 10 Investigates, “It’s a shame that Governor DeSantis’ regime doesn’t want to tell the complete history of America, which does include African Americans and the trials and tribulations that we’ve gone through from being African to African American."

The College Board, which develops curriculum for Advanced Placement courses, previously said in a statement to 10 Investigates:

"Like all new AP courses, AP African American Studies is undergoing a rigorous, multi-year pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars and policymakers. 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. 

"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 announced it will release the framework for the course on Feb. 1.

Emerald Morrow is an investigative reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10tampabay.com.

You can watch attorney Ben Crump's full news conference below.


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