6 Arkansas schools say they are moving forward with AP African American studies course

17 August 2023

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The six Arkansas schools that planned to offer an Advanced Placement course on African American studies say they will continue to do so despite the state saying the class won’t count toward a student’s graduation credit.

The North Little Rock and Jacksonville North Pulaski school districts and eStem Charter Schools said Thursday they would offer the course as a “local elective” despite the Arkansas Education Department saying it is not considered a state-approved course. They join two other school districts that have said they will continue offering the class.

Education officials have said the class 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 to determine whether it complies with a law placing restrictions on how race is taught in the classroom.

The state, however, has said that schools can still offer the course and it can count toward a student’s grade point average.

“District leaders believe that the AP African American Studies course will be a valuable addition to the district’s curriculum, and will help our young people understand and appreciate the rich diversity of our society,” Jacksonville North Pulaski Superintendent Jeremy S. Owoh said in a statement.

Arkansas and other Republican-led states have placed restrictions on how race in taught in the classroom, including prohibitions on critical race theory. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, earlier this year blocked high schools in his state from teaching the AP African American Studies course.

The Little Rock School District on Wednesday said it planned to continue teaching the course at Central High School, site of the historic 1957 racial desegregation crisis. Central is one of six schools in the state that had been slated to offer the course this year. The Jonesboro School District told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette it also planned to continue offering the course.

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 this year.

The Little Rock School District has said it will ensure students in the class don’t have to pay the AP exam fee, and eStem said it will cover the exam cost. Because it’s not state approved, Arkansas won’t pay for the AP exam like it does other advanced placement courses. North Little Rock said it’s considering options to cover the costs of the exam.

In addition, eStem said students who pass the course and take the exam will be awarded a Medal of Historical Pursuit and Valor that can be worn as part of graduation regalia.

The state told districts on Friday that the course would not count toward graduation credit, days before the start of school for most students. The state has said students could still earn high school credit through an African American history course the state offers, though it is not advanced placement.

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