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Ben Crump threatens a lawsuit as Black lawmakers slam DeSantis' action on African American studies

 A crowd gathered on the Capitol's fourth floor to protest
Jim Turner
News Service of Florida
A crowd gathered on the Capitol's fourth floor to protest a decision by Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration to reject an African-American studies course.

The state’s rejection of the course has drawn national attention, including a rebuke from the Biden administration.

Leading chants of “Black history is American history,” prominent civil-rights attorney Ben Crump on Wednesday threatened to sue Gov. Ron DeSantis over the state’s rejection of an African American studies course.

“The question really is this, brothers and sisters. Are we going to let Gov. DeSantis, or anybody, exterminate Black history from the classrooms in Florida?” Crump said during an event at the Capitol, flanked by Black lawmakers and three students who would be plaintiffs in a lawsuit.

Crump added, “We are here to give notice to Gov. DeSantis that if he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP (Advanced Placement) 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 an historic lawsuit.”

The controversy stems from a Jan. 12 letter from the state Department of Education’s Office of Articulation to a senior director at The College Board, which has developed the Advanced Placement African American studies course. The letter advised that the course wouldn’t be offered in Florida public schools unless changes were made.

Ben Crump speaking at the podium surrounded by others
Tom Urban
News Service of Florida
Civil-rights attorney Ben Crump threatened to sue Gov. Ron DeSantis over the rejection of an African American studies course.

Advanced Placement courses are college-level classes offered to high-school students.

The letter said the course “significantly lacks educational value.” The department later published an infographic outlining “concerns found within” the course, including topics such as “Black queer studies” and “the reparations movement.” Education officials also expressed concerns about several authors whose works would be a requirement within the course.

“In the future, should College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE will always be willing to reopen the discussion,” the letter said.

The College Board released a statement this week saying that the organization plans to “release the official framework” for the course on Feb. 1, suggesting changes could come.

“This framework, under development since March 2022, replaces the preliminary pilot course framework under discussion to date,” the statement said. “Before a new AP course is made broadly available, it is piloted in a small number of high schools to gather feedback from high schools and colleges. The official course framework incorporates this feedback and defines what students will encounter on the AP Exam for college credit and placement.”

House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat who spoke at Wednesday’s event, took issue with the governor influencing potential changes to the course.

“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? Are we really OK with Ron DeSantis deciding what is acceptable?” Driskell said.

But DeSantis’ press secretary, Bryan Griffin, characterized the College Board’s statement as meaning changes to the course are imminent.

“Excellent news. Thanks to (DeSantis’) principled stand for education over identity politics, the College Board will be revising the course for the entire nation. The Florida Department of Education … will review the changes for compliance once resubmitted,” Griffin said in a tweet Tuesday.

The state’s rejection of the course has drawn national attention, including a rebuke from the Biden administration. Black religious leaders also are planning a Feb. 16 rally in Tallahassee to speak out on the issue.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, said Florida’s rejection of the course speaks to a larger issue of racism in America.

“The fight is not just about this AP course. The fight is against the strong uprising of racism from people who are seeing the shifting of America,” Jones said. “While the full and accurate historical record might make some uncomfortable — good!”

News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.