Prince William Co. School Board approves AP African American Studies for next academic year

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Students in Prince William County Public Schools will soon be able to take Advanced Placement African American Studies, as well as several other new courses, following a vote by the county School Board during its Nov. 1 meeting.

The board approved 11 new courses, some of which will be offered as soon as the 2024-25 academic year.

The approval of AP African American Studies comes after the Virginia Department of Education approved the course for Virginia schools in September following a monthslong review.

The review was triggered by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who ordered state education officials to determine whether the course conflicted with the governor’s first executive order, which forbids teaching “inherently divisive concepts,” including Critical Race Theory.

“I’d like to emphasize that this course is really focused on developing skills across multiple fields, with an emphasis on developing historical, literary, visual and data analysis skills,” said Stephanie Soliven, associate superintendent for teaching and learning in Prince William County Public Schools. “We think this is gonna be a great class for our students to enrich their understanding and ability to process primary documents and do historical analysis.”

The course has been at the center of some political ire since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Stop WOKE Act” in April 2022, which limited the ways in which racism can be taught in schools.

The Florida Department of Education ultimately banned AP African American Studies in January, saying it lacks educational value.

The new courses were added at the request of either specific schools, the school district at large and/or student interest level. The new offerings include:

  • AP Precalculus — requested by mathematics program
  • Chemistry II: Organic Chemistry — requested by Osbourn Park High School
  • Dance III — Intermediate Dance Studies — requested by Woodbridge High School
  • Dance IV — Advanced Dance Leadership — requested by Woodbridge High School
  • Data Science — requested by mathematics program
  • Dual Enrollment Calculus — requested by Patriot High School
  • Dual Enrollment Environmental Science — requested by Forest Park High School
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) I/II — requested by Career and Technical Education Department
  • Medical Terminology — requested by Career and Technical Education Department
  • Weight Training & Cond. Program & Performance — requested by Health and Physical Education program

Soliven told the School Board the new courses will be included in the course catalog development coming in January for high school students and then will become part of those course selections. The school district is currently reaching out to schools to hear their interests, Soliven said.

School Board members applauded the additions, in particular that of AP African American Studies and the multiple rigorous science courses.

“A necessary part of our history is teaching all of it,” said Loree Williams, the Woodbridge District School Board member, who also applauded the inclusion of multiple rigorous science courses.

The two dual-enrollment courses will be available on a “course dependent and school dependent” case, Soliven said, because teachers must meet specific qualifications in order to teach such courses.

Dual-enrollment courses allow high school students to simultaneously earn credit toward their high school diploma while also earning college credits.

Prince William County Public Schools currently has dual-enrollment agreements with Northern Virginia Community College and Shenandoah University.

“This is a great way to get a jump-start on college, where you’re not paying the tuition … you’re gonna walk in with the skills that you need to be successful,” said Lisa Zargarpur, the Coles District School Board member.

As for when and how these courses become available at individual schools, Soliven said it is a combination of both student need and interest, and teacher talent and availability.

“Whenever students are going into a new program, they’re leaving a different program, so we always try to take a tempered approach, and I would expect in each of these [courses] it would start off with one or two sections and to see that it builds from there,” Soliven said.

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