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A state letter expressed concerns about an AP Black studies course months before it became public

 Black Lives Matter fist on the 'A' of the word 'Salute' painted in the parking lot
Anna Jones
WFSU Public Media
Black Lives Matter fist on the 'A' of the word 'Salute' painted in the parking lot of the Law Offices of Anabelle Dias.

The letter to the College Board regarding “AP classroom” the Florida Department of Education references a back-and-forth between the two entities that goes back to last year.

The College Board and the Florida Department of Education are accusing each other of misleading the public over a disputed Advanced Placement African American Studies course. The latest volley over the class was sparked after College Board CEO David Coleman told NPR that no Black authors had been removed from the course based on Florida’s objections. He also told NPR that the disputed materials are now contained in a module called “AP classroom” which Florida now wants to review.

“And every teacher and student in AP African American studies is going to have access to it. We’ve already bought the permissions for texts like Kimberle Crenshaw’s breakthrough piece on mapping the margins of intersectionality. And they’re going to be freely available to teachers and students throughout the course,” Coleman said to NPR’s Mary Louise Kelley.

Crenshaw has been credited for her work in intersectionality and critical race theory—two topics the DeSantis administration has argued are divisive.

In a letter to the College Board regarding “AP classroom,” the Florida Department of Education references a back-and-forth between the two entities that goes back to July of last year—when the state, according to DOE’s letter, initially raised concerns that parts of the course could violate state laws regarding how aspects of race, history, gender and sexuality are discussed in public school classrooms.

“Regarding AP African American History, can [the] college board please communicate with us how the course complies with the following…’ and linked 1003.42 Florida Statutes and State Board of Education rule 6A-1.094124 and HB 7. The email goes on to say, ‘The preview materials appear to include content that may not be permissible. In order for the review to continue, we need information from College Board that demonstrates teaching the content would not require teachers to be out of compliance with Florida law,’” said DOE, noting this language is in an email it sent to the College Board on July 1, 2022. DOE did not attach the full text of the email in its letter to the College Board.

The College Board maintains that Florida never specified what it found to be problematic and that the first time the Board received any concern, was through a Jan. 20th  tweet from Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz.

READ: College Board's response to the Florida Board of Education

“We never received written feedback from the Florida Department of Education specifying how the course violates Florida law, despite repeated requests,” the College Board wrote in a post that lists its grievances with Florida’s letter on a point-by-point basis.

On three occasions beginning in September 2022, we requested from FDOE specific information about why the pilot course was deemed out of compliance with Florida law. We received a commitment that such feedback would be provided, but it never was. The first and only written feedback we have received was through a tweet from Commissioner Diaz posted on January 20, 2023. Four of the six course elements criticized in that tweet were in fact not present in the actual pilot framework we provided you in July 2022, including readings by Angela Davis and bell hooks, and references to Leslie Kay Jones and Roderick Ferguson. The tweet also objected to “Black Queer Studies,” though no such topic appears in the July 2022 pilot course framework.”

At some point, much of what Diaz referenced WAS circulating because a source with the College Board previously acknowledged to WFSU that parts of the course were leaked to conservative media as far back as last September.

The College Board is also taking issue with the state’s framing that it was responsible for the removal of the disputed materials, stating “Your letter claims that we removed 19 topics that were present in the pilot framework at the behest of FDOE. This is inaccurate,” and the College Board’s Coleman told NPR as much in the interview.

“There are timestamps. There are clear evidence, so it is simply false that changes were made after [the DeSantis administration raised concerns]. Simply so we don’t get confused,” Coleman said. He also noted some of the disputed materials would be appearing in AP Classroom, a supplemental guide of readings for students and teachers to use.

“Sources people are worried are gone are actually going to be magnified and made more available than ever in the classroom and teaching resources which are where secondary resources for AP always are,” Coleman said.

And yet there are parts of Florida’s letter that the College Board does not address, such as the discrepancy the state raises over how many Florida schools were piloting the program. At first, the College Board stated the course was in four districts and five schools. Later, it reported the course was in 12 schools.

Also unexplained is how the state could be reviewing a course for which it had no materials or information, as the College Board has previously stated multiple times that did not release any information about the course’s contents to states.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.