Governor meets with legislative leaders to discuss African American history course controversy

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,832 views 

Gov. Sarah Sanders met Tuesday (Aug. 22) with members of the Arkansas Legislature, including leadership of the Legislative Black Caucus, to discuss the week-long controversy over the late cancellation of an AP African American history course at several public schools.

On Friday, Aug. 11, the week before school started, Arkansas Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva said the course was a pilot program still undergoing major revisions and not ready to be certified as an AP course. He also told media outlets the course could violate executive orders by Gov. Sarah Sanders and the new LEARNS Act to avoid the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools.

The decision has resulted in high-profile state and national media coverage.

Today, at least 11 state Democratic lawmakers from Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Pine Bluff, Marianna, Little Rock and North Little Rock met at the capitol with the Republican governor to discuss the controversy.

“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 looks forward to continuing to work with them and all teachers and schools to ensure Arkansas law is being followed,” said Sanders’ communications director Alexa Henning.

Sen. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, who appeared on this weekend’s Capitol View program, had indicated the meeting would take place this week. Murdock tells Talk Business & Politics that the meeting was productive and will hopefully lead to stronger communication in the future.

He said better communication on the front end could have prevented some of the confusion. Murdock also said he was told the College Board has not provided information that has been requested for months by state education officials. He said both sides agreed they “definitely” want history taught in schools. Fears of indoctrination and CRT among conservative politicians in Arkansas have led to a higher level of scrutiny for course material regardless of its existence.

Murdock said a positive outcome of the meeting was a request by lawmakers to have a better understanding of the criteria Secretary Oliva will use to determine course appropriateness.

Six public high schools have said they plan to offer the AP African American history course despite warnings from the state. The University of Arkansas also said last week it planned to offer a college AP credit for the course.

On Monday, Oliva sent a letter to the six schools requesting more information on the materials being taught. He expressed concern over themes in the pilot program, “including ‘intersections of identity’ and ‘resistance and resilience.’”

His letter added, “To assist public school employees, representatives, and guest speakers at your district in complying with the law, please submit all materials, including but not limited to the syllabus, textbooks, teacher resources, student resources, rubrics, and training materials, to the Department by 12:00 pm on September 8, 2023, along with your statement of assurance that the teaching of these materials will not violate Arkansas law or rule.”