Some Fairfax Co. board members call for quick review of AP African American Studies course

Some school board members in Fairfax County, Virginia, are calling on Gov. Glenn Youngkin to quickly approve the Advanced Placement African American Studies course slated to be offered at a handful of high schools next fall.

In a letter to Youngkin, board members Laura Jane Cohen, Stella Pekarsky, Karl Frisch and Rachna Sizemore Heizer said the class allows for “robust discussion and debate” and that “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.”

The request comes after Youngkin ordered state education officials to review the course’s content, to see whether it violates Executive Order 1, which bans inherently divisive concepts from being taught in school.

Citing the decision to cancel a Black History Month Historical Markers contest and the controversy surrounding the state’s History and Social Studies standards of learning, board members said Youngkin has helped to “establish an alarming pattern of disregard for the academic needs of the Commonwealth’s students.”

“It’s a repeated pattern of trying to erase real history,” Cohen told WTOP. “In Virginia, we have a long way to go.”

In a statement, Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera called the letter confusing, “given that this review is a standard procedure to ensure the course aligns to our academic standards and teaches all history.”

“Our hope is that the College Board’s revisions to the pilot have addressed national concerns around the African American Studies pilot so that we can offer a college-level, rigorous course in Virginia’s schools,” Guidera said. “Neither Governor Youngkin nor I will apologize for having high expectations and taking the time to ensure that our course offerings prepare every Virginia student for success in life.”

The course was thrust into the spotlight after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blocked the course, stating it violated state law and is historically inaccurate, The Associated Press reported.

Advanced Placement courses are offered to high school students, who have the chance to earn college credit for the class after completing an assessment at the end of the school year.

Mississippi, North Dakota and Arkansas are also reviewing the course’s concepts, The Washington Post reported.

The path forward for the course in Virginia schools is unclear, largely because local school systems are tasked with selecting AP courses to offer.

“It is really scary to me, the idea that we have a governor and department of education here in Virginia that want to not just whitewash history, but really, truly want to make sure that our students don’t learn about actual, factual events,” Cohen said. “That’s terrifying.”

Several Fairfax County high schools were expected to offer the course next fall. Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland will also be offering a pilot course at select schools next year, a spokeswoman said.

Prince William County schools plans to offer the course for the 2024-25 school year, pending school board approval.

Cohen and Pekarsky have both recently announced plans to run for higher office.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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