LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A highly debated AP African American studies course in Arkansas is resulting in elected officials on several different levels starting to take initiative.
It started two weeks ago when the Arkansas Department of Education’s website showed the state had removed AP African American studies from the course code. The change appeared on the website just days before the new school year.
State Rep. Jay Richardson (D-Fort Smith), and chair of the Black Legislative Caucus, said the ongoing controversy was hashed out in a meeting between Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Education Secretary Jacob Oliva, Democratic lawmakers and the Black Caucus.
“It was very clear that there were certain things we weren’t going to come to an agreement on, but it was great to have conversations and began to see where both sides are coming from,” Richardson said.
Then earlier this week, on Aug. 21, the ADE sent a letter to school districts that decided to still offer the course. In the letter, state officials noted certain materials and topics in the pilot program that they questioned.
“Given some of the themes included in the pilot, including ‘intersections of identity’ and ‘resistance and resilience,’ the department is concerned the pilot may not comply with Arkansas law, which does not permit teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies such as Critical Race Theory,” the letter said.
The state law the letter refers to is the Arkansas LEARNS Act, which went into effect on Aug. 1. The letter requests that those schools turn over all materials from the class to the Arkansas Department of Education by Sept. 8. This includes the syllabuses, textbooks and teacher resources.
“We’re definitely committed to working with the Department of Ed and the governor’s office to rectify this issue, and I think we will,” Richardson said.
Richardson also noted that they planned to meet again in early September, where Oliva will bring some documents he feels cause challenges.
The spokesperson for Sanders, Alexa Henning, sent a comment regarding the meeting.
“Governor Sanders was happy to meet with Democratic Representatives and members of the Black Caucus to discuss the importance of education in Arkansas and the process by which AP courses meet the standards in the state,” she said. “She looks forward to continuing to work with them and all teachers and schools to ensure Arkansas law is being followed.”
Meantime, the Little Rock School Board will consider a resolution in Thursday night’s meeting that vows their support for the course and the teachers offering it.
“To send a message to our students and to black Americans that our history is somehow insignificant — that is so far from the truth,” board member Vicki Hatter said.
Hatter said this course is especially crucial for the Little Rock School District, given their history in the civil rights movement with Central High School.
“Central High School, as well as Little Rock School District, it is a civil rights site, and we stand bold against any form of educational injustice or injustice,” Hatter said. “Period.”