The four largest school districts in the Fort Smith metro have no plans to offer an AP (advanced placement) course on African American history, but the Fort Smith and Van Buren districts offer an African American history elective for students that do provide high school credit.
Arkansas Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva on Aug. 11 announced that the AP African American studies course is a pilot program still undergoing major revisions and not ready to be certified as an AP course. He also told media outlets that the course could violate orders by Gov. Sarah Sanders to avoid the teaching of so-called critical race theory in public schools.
Because the program may not result in college credit, the statement said, the pilot program may not meet graduation requirements and does not comply with the rules of the department’s AP program like other vetted courses, such as AP European History, United States History, and World History: Modern.
The ADE statement also noted that Arkansas has an African American History course listed in the ADE Course Code Management System for 2023-2024. Though the course is not an AP course, students who complete it do receive high school credit.
However, six public school districts – including the Little Rock School District (LRSD) – have vowed to keep students enrolled in AP African American studies courses. Also, the University of Arkansas said it would recognize the course work as an AP credit.
“AP African American Studies will allow students to explore the complexities, contributions, and narratives that have shaped the African American experience throughout history, including Central High School’s integral connection,” according to a LRSD statement.
Oliva on Monday (Aug. 21) sent a letter to school districts warning them that continuing to teach the AP course could violate state law.
“Given some of the themes included in the pilot, including ‘intersections of identity’ and ‘resistance and resilience,’ the Department is concerned the pilot may not comply with Arkansas law, which does not permit teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as Critical Race Theory,” Oliva noted in his letter.
Neither Greenwood Public Schools nor Alma Public schools offer any type of African American history or study program.
“Sadly, we do not,” said Amanda Maxwell, a counselor with Greenwood High School.
Fort Smith Public Schools has offered an African American history elective for the past four school years, said Dr. Tony Jones, director of secondary education. The class has 76 students enrolled this semester, and 79 are enrolled to take the class next semester, Jones said.
Myron Heckman, secondary director of learning services for VBSD, said the district offers a semester course of African American history at the high school level.
Rep. Jay Richardson, D-Fort Smith, and chairman of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus (ALBC), told Talk Business & Politics that while the ADE decision was unfortunate, it has raised awareness about teaching African American history.
“It’s tough for me to speak outside of my (district), but I do hope they (other districts) see some opportunity for them to offer these courses so that all students have that awareness, that they see the need to present the history of all their students,” Richardson said.
Richardson and other members of the ALBC have a Tuesday morning meeting scheduled with Sanders and Oliva. Richardson said he plans to ask the governor and Oliva why they “deemed it necessary at the last minute” to cancel the AP course, and to let them know the ALBC plans to “make sure the administration hears our concerns and knows that we will do all we can to hold them accountable.”
Talk Business & Politics reporter Michael Tilley contributed to this report.