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Florida officials discussed AP African American Studies course with College Board for months before initial rejection

<i>RJ Sangosti/Denver Post/Getty Images</i><br/>Florida officials discussed the AP African American Studies course with Florida College Board for months before it was rejected last month.
Denver Post via Getty Images
RJ Sangosti/Denver Post/Getty Images
Florida officials discussed the AP African American Studies course with Florida College Board for months before it was rejected last month.

By Nicole Chavez, CNN

The testing organization behind a new advanced high school class in African American studies met several times and exchanged emails over the past year with Florida officials to discuss the course, the state Education Department said, amid a roiling national debate over how politics intersects with the teaching of history.

More details emerged in two letters this week between the non-profit College Board and the Florida Department of Education about officials’ communications related to the Advanced Placement course rejected last month by the administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination for president.

Florida officials last month said they objected to some of the authors and topics — including Black queer studies and Black feminism — that were initially part of the course but were not included when its official framework was released this month. The course was shaped only by experts and under AP principles and practices, said the College Board, which has denied critics’ accusations it’s been influenced by political pressure.

In a Tuesday letter, the Florida Department of Education writes it was “grateful” to see the changes in the course and appears to indicate it has not yet decided whether to approve it, as it asks the College Board to resubmit the class for consideration.

In the letter, Florida officials list email exchanges with the College Board starting in January 2022 and meetings in the later part of that year in which they asked if the AP African American Studies course complies with state laws and regulations, including House Bill 7 — the so-called “Stop WOKE Act,” which said schools cannot teach that anyone is inherently racist or responsible for past atrocities because of their skin color.

Florida officials in a July email stated the course’s “preview materials appear to include content that may not be permissible,” according to the letter. CNN has requested a copy of that email and other documents mentioned in the letter, which the Florida Department of Education did not immediately provided.

Weeks after the July email, a representative with the College Board said the course did not conflict with state laws — but by September, the department issued a memo stating the course could not be added without revisions, the letter says.

State Education Department officials and College Board representatives met at least two times to discuss the concerns, the letter states, before the state rejected the course last month.

In a Wednesday letter responding to the Education Department, the College Board says it never got written feedback from state officials “specifying how the course violates Florida law, despite repeated requests.”

The timeline shared by the department states the College Board said during a November meeting that items such as ‘systemic marginalization’ and ‘intersectionality’ were integral elements of the course and could not be removed.”

The College Board disputed claims course content was removed “at behest of FDOE” and explained changes in the course were made after prioritizing what is essential for college credit after data collected from college faculty indicated “a need to reduce the number of topics in the pilot framework by 20%.”

In its letter, the College Board says it provides some information to states about courses while they’re being developed and consider their concerns if they are “academically valid.”

“Many AP courses, especially those based in history and culture, deal with contested topics. The AP Program navigates those challenging waters by relying on our AP Principles. These principles make it abundantly clear that we stand against censorship and indoctrination equally,” the College Board says in the letter.

In the case of the African American Studies course, the College Board briefed Florida officials on the content of the final framework only after it was made public on February 1, the organization says. No topics were removed due to a lack of education value, and no Black scholars or authors have been removed from the course, the group also notes.

“If Florida or any state chooses not to adopt this course, we would regret that decision, and we believe educators and students would as well. We look forward to continuing to work together to deliver opportunities for Florida students,” the College Board says.

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CNN’s Leyla Santiago contributed to this report.

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