(Updated at 9:45 a.m. on 3/1/2023) The College Board’s much-debated course on African American identity and history will be available in several Fairfax County high schools this fall as part of a pilot program.
While the state scrutinizes the course, Fairfax County Public Schools plans to offer Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies at the following schools in the next school year, which will begin on Aug. 21:
- Chantilly HS
- Fairfax HS
- Hayfield HS
- McLean HS
- South County
- Westfield HS
- West Potomac HS
- Woodson HS
The course’s availability at each school is “pending student interest/enrollment,” FCPS says.
(Correction: FFXnow was initially told that Centreville High School would be among three schools participating in the pilot, but FCPS says the school won’t be offering the course this coming year.)
According to FCPS, the participating schools “self-selected” for the pilot “based on student and teacher interest.” Principals filled out an interest form sent out by the College Board, which launched the pilot at 60 schools last fall after spending over a decade developing the course.
“FCPS supports offering students multiple opportunities to achieve their academic goals and pursue their academic interests,” an FCPS spokesperson said. “College Board AP courses offer students the opportunity to take nationally recognized curricula with potential college credit, which is why we sought this opportunity for our students.”
A nonprofit focused on access to higher education, the College Board oversees the SAT as well as the AP Program, which provides college-level courses that high school students can take to earn college credits.
The organization released an official framework for its new African American Studies course on Feb. 1, days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said his state rejected the course as “indoctrination” for its inclusion of LGBTQ studies, the Movement for Black Lives and other topics.
The document has drawn criticism from some educators and advocacy organizations for shifting away from subjects and texts in Florida’s complaint. The College Board has denied letting the state influence the curriculum, though it said it independently chose to remove terms like “intersectionality” that are often “misunderstood, misrepresented, and co-opted as political weapons.”
Virginia is one of four states reviewing the course. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has directed Education Secretary Aimee Rogstad Guidera to see if the course violates his executive order prohibiting “inherently divisive concepts” in public schools, spokesperson Macaulay Porter said.
The order defines divisive concepts as ideas that suggest an individual can be racist or sexist based on their identity or bears responsibility for past oppression, citing “critical race theory” as an example even though the academic theory views racism as a structural issue, rather than an individual one.
Five Fairfax County School Board members, including chair and at-large member Rachna Sizemore-Heizer, sent a letter to Youngkin and Guidera on Tuesday (Feb. 21) urging them “not to impede the teaching” of the AP course.
Also signed by Stella Pekarksy (Sully), Melanie Meren (Hunter Mill), Karl Frisch (Providence) and Laura Jane Cohen (Springfield), the letter says the review continues “an alarming pattern of disregard for the academic needs” of Virginia students after last year’s cancellation of a Black History Month Historical Markers contest for students and proposed changes to history and social studies standards of learning.
“As the entry point for the first enslaved Africans in the colonies and home to the nation’s first Black governor, Virginia has been the backdrop for vital pieces of African-American history,” the school board members wrote. “We have a moral obligation to teach our students about both the darkest times from our past and the inspiring progress we have made as a country.”
One school board member not among the signatories told FFXnow she agrees Youngkin’s administration should support the course, but most board members got the letter less than 24 hours before it was sent to the state, giving them little time to review it and offer feedback.
Notably absent are the board’s two Black members: at-large representative Karen Keys-Gamarra and Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson.
In a joint statement to FFXnow, Keys-Gamarra and Anderson said their decision to refrain from signing “has nothing to do with our lack of support for the course” or their colleagues’ concerns about the state potentially interfering.
“Rather, we believe we could have benefitted from intentional collaboration with our Board colleagues, other Northern Virginia school boards, and organizations engaged in education work to present a more robust and impactful argument,” they said.
They said the letter lacked “essential historical context that would emphasize the extent of the crisis currently impacting K-12 public education,” including Virginia’s history as the base of the Confederacy and Jim Crow laws that segregated schools.
They also suggested the letter should’ve acknowledged that prohibiting the AP course would affect all students, not just African American and Black students.
“Restricting access to this history, places Virginia students at a distinct competitive disadvantage as their lack of knowledge could impede their ability to excel at the college level and beyond,” Keys-Gamarra and Anderson wrote.
It’s unclear if Virginia can actually bar schools from offering African American Studies, since AP courses are chosen by local school districts, not the state Board of Education. The College Board’s pilot is set to expand this fall and continue through 2024.
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