TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) — As previously reported, attorney Ben Crump will file a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis for rejecting the Advanced Placement African American studies course that was undergoing a test pilot in some Florida schools, as well as those in other states.
Florida officials announced their rejection of the course last week, citing historical inaccuracies and violations of state law, particularly the inclusion of what officials called overtly political content and ideological lessons that were not allowed in the state.
Joined by state lawmakers and Florida students in Tallahassee, Crump spoke about the legal challenge. The event started with prayer, calling the current circumstance “a time of misery” and asking for god’s wisdom “amidst the pain and constant rejection we feel.”
Crump announced plans to file the lawsuit on Tuesday, with an expected media briefing in Tallahassee at 12:30 p.m. alongside state lawmakers on Wednesday. In the state capitol, Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-Broward), members of the National Education association, National Action Network, Democratic House Leader Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa), Florida Legislative Black Caucus Chair Dianne Hart (D-Tampa), members of the National Black Justice Coalition, and Florida Rep. Michele Rayner (D-Clearwater), will also be present.
Driskell spoke first, of those gathered, thanking those who had traveled from across Florida to show their support. She said that by rejecting the AP course, “Ron DeSantis has clearly demonstrated that he wants to dictate whose story does and does not belong. He wants to control what our kids can learn based on politics, not on sound policy. He repeatedly attacks the First Amendment rights of Floridians.”
Driskell said DeSantis now was “throwing his weight” against the AP course, and by doing so “undermining the rights of parents and students to make the best decisions for themselves.” She said they were in Tallahassee to tell the governor that Black history was American history and that he was on the wrong side of history.
“Now we’ve been told that this AP African American history course will be altered and resubmitted, and most likely they’ll make enough changes for the governor to approve it, but at what cost?” Driskell said. “And are we really ok with Ron DeSantis deciding what’s acceptable for America’s students across the country about Black history?”
On Tuesday, the College Board announced a newer version of the education program would be revealed on Feb. 1, to start off Black History Month. The non-profit did not say the changes were due to the rejection of the program in Florida, they also did not confirm if the changes were for the national version of the course, or just in the Sunshine State.
Driskell described the course as being developed by experts, with AP students being among the brightest in the country and able to handle “challenging topics.” She also said it wasn’t political to discuss history, and that by refusing to teach it accurately or sugar coat it would diminish or erase the truth.
The pilot program version of the AP Studies Course was rejected by state officials, but the Florida Education Department didn’t shut the door entirely, offering a chance to include the program in the state pending revisions to comply with state education standards and laws.
In response to some of the previous pushback, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. said Florida is proud, and statutorily required, to teach African American history but would not “accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education,” which is against state law. The state law in question was 2022’s ban on teaching of Critical Race Theory, the “Stop WOKE Act.”
“We all know that united we stand and divided we fall, and while Ron DeSantis tries to divide us for his own political goals, to truly love our country means to bravely face our history, to know our own history, and to never be afraid to hold America to its highest ideals,” Driskell said.
The Democratic representative said DeSantis’ drawing attention to the course had happened while the course was already under revision and had done it for political reasons, in preparation to allegedly run for President of the United States in 2024.
As of now, DeSantis has not confirmed he will be running for president during the next general election, but it has been widely rumored, even during the November midterms.
After Driskell spoke, Rayner spoke, describing the move by DeSantis and state officials as a witch hunt, and saying that the students affected by rejection of the course knew and understood what was happening.
“Our babies know what’s going on…they know that the erasure of history is not a secret. There are 2.8 million students sitting in Florida public schools right now knowing that their governor does not want them to learn about Black history,” Rayner said. She reminded those gathered about DeSantis’ election for his first term while he “was campaigning on political ideology and made comments like ‘don’t monkey this up.'”
Rayner asked what about this decision was freedom and said that DeSantis had seen the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and “pass a bill to silence the Black vote,” in response. She said that when DeSantis was asked about it, he had said it wasn’t about race, it was about keeping businesses and residents safe.
Turning to teaching of Critical Race Theory, Rayner called the ban a “dog whistle,” noting that the topic was not taught in Florida’s K-12 schools. She said “DeSantis had the audacity to invoke MLK,” while discussing changes to education policy.
“For five years,” students have “watched their governor attack people based on what they look like, who they love, and what they believe,” Rayner said. “And now he tells students that Black history lacks value. Value means importance, worth, or usefulness of something. Value is akin to mattering. Mattering means something to be of importance or significance.”
Rayner said that DeSantis was showing people who he was, in real time.
“You cannot say on Monday that you support Dr. King, and then on Wednesday refuse to tell his story,” Rayner said.
Thompson spoke after Rayner, also weighing in on the educational policy changes in Florida, beginning by quoting late Black author James Baldwin “I can’t hear what you say because I see what you do,” saying that in Florida, people hear that African American history is required, but for the 30 years that law was “on the books,” it was not enforced, with no consequences. She said it was time out for hypocrisy.
“There have been no consequences for not teaching African American history,” Thompson continued. “The courses that were to be taught on African American history were intended to explore how individual freedoms have been infringed by slavery, racial oppression, segregation, racial discrimination, and laws that resulted in racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination, and to highlight those individuals who worked to overturn unjust laws.”
She said residents were told by Ron DeSantis that these lessons “had no value,” saying that in Florida’s 67 school districts, only 12 had been determined to be doing “an exemplary job” of teaching African American history by the Commissioner of Education’s African American History Taskforce. Thompson said that as far as consequences, someone needed to be held accountable for the lack of teaching on the subject.
Thompson urged Floridians to ensure the law was upheld and teaching African American history to actually occur in Florida and for the task force to receive appropriate funding to do so. She announced legislation to ensure that any school in Florida that receives tax dollars be required to teach African American history, including private schools.
Hart spoke after Thompson, saying that the purpose of education was “the advancement of knowledge and dissemination of truth,” citing President John Kennedy. She said that under DeSantis, Black culture had been attacked and dismissed, and that now Black Floridians were being told their history didn’t matter.
“The only reason I can think of that they would try to hide the truth is they’re afraid,” Hart said. “They’re afraid that by learning the truth about African American history, Black children will change, that what truth about what has transpired in America will ruin that perspective of American exceptionalism, that we push in the world.”
Hart said fear and intimidation will “never stop the truth,” and that all students deserve quality education that is honest about history. She also pushed back on recent legislation to provide more opportunities for private school in Florida, via House Bill 1.
Sen. Jones spoke after Hart, calling upon his colleagues, saying not to get weary and not to give up. He thanked supporters who had come for their effort, as well as his fellow lawmakers, saying that they were not gathered “for an exercise, not because it’s cute to stand here,” saying that those present would not allow this to happen.
“We are dealing with the structure of a system that continues to perpetuate racism across this country and across this state,” Jones said. “This is not just a Florida problem. Hear what I’m telling you, Florida is just the petri dish. People from across the country should be concerned about what legislatures and governors are doing and what they’re watching Florida to do.”
Jones continued, saying that “if it can happen in Florida, it can happen in Tennessee, it can happen in Colorado,” but that they would “resist right here, right now. Ron DeSantis is a problem, but he is not the problem. The problem that we are facing is that we are not dealing with the bigger issue at hand.”
Jones said schools were “crumbling” and in disrepair, and highlighted the ongoing high property insurance crisis as continuing issues.
“These are problems that are being ignored because we have to deal with the promotion of Jim Crow 3.0 by people who don’t know and don’t care about what’s happening in Black communities but they decided to referee how you teach our history,” Jones said. He said the focus on the AP African American studies was what they were dealing with now, but the bigger issue was being ignored, alleging that staff of the governor’s office was “telling them to cry about it.”
Jones noted that Florida had multiple cultural AP courses, including European history and Japanese culture and language, and German language and culture, and that they were valued.
After a variety of other community and organization leaders spoke, Crump took the podium. He said that the planned lawsuit announced Tuesday night would not be filed yet, pending the status of the revisions to the pilot program course.
“We’re here to give notice to Gov. DeSantis that if he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African American Studies to be taught in the classrooms across the state of Florida, that these three young people will be the lead plaintiffs in a historic lawsuit,” Crump said. “You all need to remember their names because its their courageous tenacity and their intellect that reminds” him of the examples of a young John Lewis, Julian Bond, and Fannie Lou Hamer, among other Civil Rights leaders from American history.
Crump said they would not allow Black history to be “exterminated” in American classrooms, and that Black Americans could not be exterminated, as well as the value of their children or their culture. He asked if DeSantis was trying to lead Americans into an era akin to Communism, that “provides censorship of free thoughts,” and pledged to ensure that DeSantis understands those in opposition to his directive would stand on American principles of the free exchange of ideas, no matter the origin or history of the ideas.
“We say no to censorship, we say yes to community, no to censorship, yes to community,” Crump said. “As Dr. King taught us, we are all part of the beloved community. My last thoughts are this, as the court wrote in November when it granted an injunction against university boards, 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.”
The student would-be plaintiffs spoke about the impact the rejection would have on them and describing the types of history not currently taught in AP U.S. History courses, that the pilot program had included.
The event was closed with another group prayer, asking for strength to overcome, wisdom, and grace fighting the “new Jim Crowism” and pledging that African Americans were not going to “be neglected, will not be overlooked, we are not three-fifths of a person,” and that education on Black history did not lack value.
The rejection of the course has also been of note in just Florida. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre commented that the rejection by DeSantis and Florida education leaders was “incomprehensible,” while Florida Democrats had also criticized the decision.
While speaking in Jacksonville Monday, DeSantis weighed in on the rejection.
“That’s a political agenda, so we’re on, that’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards. We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t think they should have an agenda imposed on them,” DeSantis said in Jacksonville. “When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
In response to the warning of a potential lawsuit from Crump and the gathered Florida Democrats, a spokesperson for the Florida Dept. of Education said “This threat is nothing more than a meritless publicity stunt,” and forwarded other, previous commentary on the AP AAS course.