Florida students threaten lawsuit against DeSantis over African American studies rejection

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said Wednesday that three Florida high school students are ready to file a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over his rejection of an Advanced Placement (AP) African American studies pilot program in the state.

“Will we let Governor DeSantis or anybody exterminate Black history in the classrooms across America?” Crump asked at a press conference in the Florida Senate. “What this really is about is saying you cannot exterminate us. You cannot exterminate our culture and you can never exterminate the value of our children to this world.”

Wednesday’s announcement was to “give DeSantis notice” that should he not allow the course to be run in classrooms, three students — Elijah Edwards, Victoria McQueen and Juliette Heckman — will be the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit against him.

“Stealing the right for students to gather knowledge on a history that many want to know about because it’s a political agenda goes to show that some don’t want this — the horrors this country has done to African Americans — to finally come to light,” McQueen said.

“Also, when students learn ‘all the basics,’ students learn just enough to get by, but don’t have to consider the trauma that will forever be engraved in this country’s history,” she added. “My Floridian classmates and I are being deprived by not getting this course, and we feel that we should be able to make the decision of whether or not to take a[n] Advanced Placement African American history.”

In addition to the three students, Crump was joined by Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D); Fedrick Ingram, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers; Florida Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Dianne Hart, state Sen. Shevrin Jones (D); and David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.

“By rejecting the African American history pilot program, Ron DeSantis clearly demonstrated he wants to dictate whose story does and doesn’t belong,” said Driskell. “He is undermining the rights of parents and students to make the best decisions for themselves. He wants to say that I don’t belong. He wants to say you don’t belong.”

The Florida Department of Education sent a letter to the College Board, which administers the AP exams, earlier this month saying that “the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

The department’s key concerns with the course included the topics of intersectionality, Black Queer Studies, the Black Lives Matter movement, Black Feminist Literary Thought, the reparations movement and the Black Study and Black Struggle in the 21st Century.

Key readings by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the “founder” of intersectionality, Angela Davis, a “self-avowed Communist and Marxist,” Roderick Ferguson, Leslie Kay Jones, bell hooks and Robin D.G. Kelley also were reportedly cause for concern.

Despite backlash from across the country, DeSantis, who is said to be considering a 2024 White House bid, this week defended the decision, saying at a press conference the state wants “education, not indoctrination.”

But according to attorney Craig Whisenhunt, in 2010 a Republican-led government in Arizona similarly tried to limit Mexican American studies courses in the state before a federal court disallowed the policy.

“The government doesn’t get to entangle itself in the education of students when it comes to a point of view,” Whisenhunt said. “There are equal protections under the law, and this effort by the governor disproportionately affects only some. There are protections to content-oriented speech, and this only intends to limit some content: the content that applies to African American studies and African American students’ histories, our Black communities.”

The College Board told The Hill on Wednesday that it will release an updated version to the AP course as part of ongoing revisions to the program.

Though the statement did not specify what spurred the changes, DeSantis’s office has taken credit for the change.

“Thanks to @GovRonDeSantis’ principled stand for education over identity politics, the College Board will be revising the course for the entire nation,” said press secretary Bryan Griffin on Twitter Tuesday.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.