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African-American Studies in Arkansas: Schools defy Gov. Huckabee Sanders

By Lee Cleveland - August 18, 2023

It appears that despite pressure from state officials, particularly Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, several Arkansas school districts are standing firm in their decision to offer coursework in African-American studies.

Out of the six high schools that had initially planned to offer Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies, five have confirmed that they will proceed with the class, while the sixth school is still considering its stance.

The schools that are committed to offering the AP African American Studies course include the following: Central High School in the Little Rock School District, North Little Rock High School, the Academies at Jonesboro, North Little Rock Center for Excellence (a charter school), and eStem High School (another charter school). These schools have stated that they will teach the course and grade students based on the same elevated 5-point GPA scale as other Advanced Placement classes.

However, the Jacksonville Public Schools district, which was also planning to offer the course, is still in discussions with the Arkansas Department of Education and has not yet finalized its decision.

Education Secretary Jacob Oliva, who received instructions from Governor Sanders to address concerns related to “indoctrination” and “critical race theory,” recently revoked state recognition of the AP African American Studies course.

The state Department of Education issued a statement suggesting that teaching the subject might potentially violate state law.

It’s worth noting that Jacob Oliva has previously been involved in educational policy changes in Florida, where he worked under Governor Ron DeSantis and oversaw adjustments to schools under the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Oliva is now tasked with implementing similar changes in Arkansas, following an executive order from Governor Sanders and a section in her Arkansas LEARNS school voucher act.

While the Arkansas schools are committed to offering the AP African American Studies course, it’s important to mention that colleges and universities have the authority to determine whether they will accept AP course credits.

This means that even if the state no longer supports the course, schools can still choose to offer it, and students may have the opportunity to take it for college credit.

Additionally, the schools that are proceeding with the AP African American Studies class are exploring options to cover the $90 test costs for the exam, as Arkansas has decided not to cover these costs anymore, in contrast to other AP courses.