The Washington Post

3 districts plan to offer pilot Black history class

AP course at center of firestorm will be widely available in Va. in 2024


At least three Virginia school districts plan to offer the pilot Advanced Placement African American studies course next school year amid scrutiny from officials in several states, including Gov. Glenn Youngkin, over the course’s teachings on race.

School officials in Fairfax, Arlington and Caroline counties said students will be able to take the course, which covers a wide range of Black history and cultural topics, in its second pilot year. It was initially rolled out in about 60 classrooms nationwide this school year. The pilot will continue this fall, and the class will be widely available in fall 2024. Many of Virginia’s more than 130 school divisions said it’s still too early to decide if they will offer the course for the 2024-2025 school year.

The course has become the center of a political firestorm since Florida Gov. Ron Desantis (R) rejected the course, calling it “woke” and an example of progressiv­e “indoctrina­tion.” In the weeks that followed, the College Board, which oversees AP courses, announced revisions to the pilot, including the eliminatio­n of lessons on Black Lives Matter and reparation­s. The nonprofit

organizati­on has said the topics are not barred from the course, and the revisions were not a response to the Florida criticisms.

The Washington Post found that of the at least 18 states that have laws or policies that restrict the teaching of race, four, including Virginia, said they would be also be reviewing the course. Youngkin (R) directed state education officials to determine whether the course conflicts with executive order one, the governor’s first-day action that forbids teaching “inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory,” an academic framework for examining the way policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism. Critical race theory has become a catchall term that many GOP politician­s have used to describe various kinds of lessons about race and racism they find objectiona­ble.

Youngkin spokeswoma­n Macaulay Porter said the review was ongoing and did not offer a timeline of when it would be completed.

The governor’s review was met with immediate backlash from some state leaders, who said Youngkin was underminin­g the course.

Four Fairfax County School Board members said in a letter to the governor that Virginia has been the backdrop for key moments of African American history, and that the state has “a moral obligation” to teach its students a complete history.

“This action follows a disturbing national trend of attempts to restrict teaching and learning. From banning books to baseless attacks on hard working educators, public education faces many attacks, and this action leaves no doubt that those threats have reached Virginia,” school board member Stella Pekarsky said in a statement.

Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera said in an email that the review is standard for all policies, programs, training and curriculum­s “to ensure that our students are being taught how to think, and not what to think.”

Guidera said they’re hoping the College Board’s revisions to the pilot will address “national concerns” about the course and the state can offer it.

“Neither Governor Youngkin nor I will apologize for having high expectatio­ns and taking the time to ensure that our course offerings prepare every Virginia student for success in life,” Guidera said.

But Youngkin’s review will determine only whether the class can count toward a required history credit needed for graduation in Virginia schools. Regardless of the outcome of the review, local school divisions will still have the option to offer the course as an elective, according to an education department spokespers­on.

The Washington Post asked Virginia’s school divisions whether they planned to offer the new AP course once approved by the College Board, and whether the state’s review would impact that decision.

No school divisions said their schools participat­ed in this year’s initial pilot. In Fairfax County, the state’s largest school division, officials said they are planning to offer the course in Chantilly, Fairfax, Hayfield, Mclean, South County, Westfield, West Potomac and Woodson high schools, but it will depend on student enrollment. In Arlington, Wakefield and Washington-liberty high schools will offer the course next year, along with Caroline High School in Caroline County.

Most of the 32 districts that responded said it was too soon to decide whether the course will be offered. The president of a coalition for about 80 rural school systems said most of those districts would likely not offer the course because AP course offerings are already limited.

A spokespers­on for Manassas City Public Schools, which represents about 2,200 high school students, said Osbourn High School plans to submit the course request to the school system’s director of instructio­n for approval in the fall, with hopes to offer it during the 2024-2025 school year.

Prince William County Public Schools, which represents 15 high schools and is the second-largest school district in the state, also plans to offer the course then, pending school board approval.

Proponents of the course said that students shouldn’t have to decide whether to use one of their few elective credits on the course when it could count toward a graduation requiremen­t. Virginia students need four electives to graduate with a standard diploma and three electives for an advanced studies diploma.

“It disincenti­vizes students from learning about a certain kind of history,” said Fairfax County School Board member Rachna Sizemore Heizer, who signed the letter to the governor.

Some school districts, like Culpeper County Public Schools, said they didn’t plan to offer the AP course because they already offer the state’s African American History elective course.

“The thought was that it would be of greater interest to a wider group of students than just AP students,” spokespers­on Laura Hoover said in an email.

The existing elective course was developed in 2019 under Youngkin’s predecesso­r Gov. Ralph Northam (D), with the formation of the African American History Education Commission, designed to examine the teaching of African American history in Virginia’s public schools. The state-developed course opened widely to students in 2021 and explores talking about race and racism and modern Black America.

In Winchester City Public Schools, the course is one of the most popular electives, often with a waitlist, a spokespers­on said. In Franklin County, the course has been successful in part because of a dedicated and engaging teacher.

Some critics of Youngkin’s review said the governor was singling out the AP African American studies course. Last year, in response to Youngkin’s executive order, the education department reviewed and rescinded a wide range of policies, memos and programs establishe­d to further diversity, equity and inclusion. Porter, Youngkin’s spokeswoma­n, did not answer questions about whether the state African American History elective or other AP history courses were included in that review.

“I don’t know why he’s not looking at a review of all AP,” said Sizemore Heizer, of the Fairfax County School Board. “If he’s really concerned about it, why isn’t he looking at all of it.”

Many school divisions said they determine course offerings based on student interest and teacher availabili­ty.

In some smaller and rural school divisions where there is less interest in AP classes, the college-level courses aren’t offered at all — like in Mecklenbur­g County Public Schools, a division on the southern border of Virginia that includes about 4,000 K-12 students.

“Instead, we have created a strong partnershi­p with the local community college and offer a significan­t number of dual enrollment classes,” Superinten­dent Paul Nichols said in an email.

Keith Perrigan, superinten­dent of Bristol Virginia Public Schools and president of the Coalition of Small and Rural Schools of Virginia, said his school district has a limited AP offering, and many of the 80 divisions in the coalition are likely in a similar position.

Nat Malkus, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservati­ve-leaning think tank, said that access to those courses for smaller school divisions is a problem across the country which poses a wider issue of access than what often gets politicall­y debated.

“Maybe the more important reason than the political arguments is that the majority of kids won’t have access to this course or the more mainstream courses like AP Calculus,” he said, “which can be pretty valuable signifiers on a college applicatio­n.”

 ?? Craig Hudson For the Washington Post ?? Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA.), visiting a Stafford County school in September, has directed education officials to review the AP African American studies course to determine whether it conflicts with an executive action that forbids teaching “inherently divisive concepts.”
Craig Hudson For the Washington Post Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA.), visiting a Stafford County school in September, has directed education officials to review the AP African American studies course to determine whether it conflicts with an executive action that forbids teaching “inherently divisive concepts.”

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