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DeSantis faces criticism for Florida's ban on African American studies AP course

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The College Board says it will soon release a revised version of an AP course on African American studies. The announcement comes less than a week after officials in Florida said they would ban its use in the state because they believe it carries a political agenda. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is no stranger to controversy. A likely 2024 presidential candidate, he's built a national profile in the Republican Party by taking a stand against policies he calls woke. His targets have ranged from mask and COVID vaccine mandates to discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in the schools. But his administration's decision to ban a new AP course of African American studies has drawn attention around the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Ron DeSantis has to go. Hey, hey...

ALLEN: That was in Philadelphia yesterday, outside a private club where DeSantis received an award. Protesters yelled shame at club members as they entered. Back in his home state, there was a similar scene today inside Florida's Capitol building.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #2: Black history is American history. Black history is...

ALLEN: Civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump joined a group of African American lawmakers to say they would do more than protest the administration's ban of the African American studies course. They plan to file a lawsuit challenging it on behalf of three high school students. Crump said there's a clear precedent, quoting from a federal judge's recent decision that invalidated portions of Florida's anti-woke legislation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENJAMIN CRUMP: It is not for the state of Florida to declare which viewpoints will be deemed orthodox and which will be forbidden from its university classrooms.

ALLEN: DeSantis and other members of his administration say the criticism of the ban is unfair. The state rejected the course, they say, because, quote, "it lacks educational values and historical accuracy." This week, DeSantis defended the decision to ban the course, saying it amounted to indoctrination.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: This course on Black history, what are one - what's one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now, who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids.

ALLEN: Florida's education commissioner has said if the College Board revises its course, he'll consider allowing it to be used in state schools. The College Board says revisions are being made to a pilot version of the course, and a new framework will be released next week. A Florida Department of Education spokesperson says the department expects the changes will remove references to critical race theory, Black queer studies and other topics it's identified as objectionable. The College Board says the revisions are based on feedback from high schools and colleges. There's no word yet on what they'll entail. Florida's House Democratic leader, Fentrice Driskell, says the changes may be enough to satisfy Florida's objections and allow DeSantis to claim a win.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FENTRICE DRISKELL: But at what cost? And are we really OK with Ron DeSantis deciding what's acceptable for America's students across the country about Black history?

ALLEN: As he looks to higher office, DeSantis says he's committed to making sure it remains what he calls the free state of Florida. But the Democratic leader in Florida's Senate, Lauren Book, says the governor does so by targeting groups and ideas.

LAUREN BOOK: This freedom fallacy that exists in our state is getting really, really tired. We can't say that we're a free state when the executor is constantly going after this population or that.

ALLEN: This week, DeSantis rolled out new plans to reshape education in the nation's third-largest state. They include a campaign to root out critical race theory and other examples of what his administration calls woke ideology at the state's 12 public universities.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLORIDIAN SONG, "READY OR NOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.