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As far-right politicians and states from Florida to Arkansas launch mounting attacks on public education, some school districts are fighting back.
In Arkansas, under Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the state department of education recently removed AP African American Studies from course options. The state, which was among others at the epicenter of the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights movement, is the second after Florida to have the course removed.
Education officials cited a new “anti-CRT law” and claimed the College Board course has yet to be vetted.
The Little Rock School District, however, says it will still offer the course.
More than 65 years have passed since the Little Rock Nine integrated Little Rock Central High School. Now, officials are ensuring students today will be able to take the course thanks to district and community support.
While the district cannot count it as a graduation credit, the weighted grade will still factor into a student’s GPA. The school also said it will raise funds so students can take the AP test for free.
Oklahomans join Arkansans in pushing back against far-right attacks on public education
Just next door in Oklahoma, a similar fight is brewing with State Superintendent Ryan Walters.
In July, Walters implied to a group of teachers and parents that teaching students race played a role in the Tulsa Race Massacre may violate state law.
“That is critical race theory,” Walters told an audience member when asked about teaching racism’s role in the massacre. “You’re saying race defines a person – I reject that.”
“You be judgmental of the action, of the content of the character of the individual – absolutely,” Walters continued. “But let’s not tie it to the skin color and say that the skin color determined it.”
The comments drew international condemnation and led to Walters backtracking.
But the moment hit at a cornerstone of Walters’ war on what he calls “woke ideology”. For Walters, that includes any focus of diversity, equity or inclusion.
In Tulsa Public Schools, the history of the city’s race massacre has long been buried. Community advocates and leaders fought hard to change that reality, elevating the history into the consciousness of the city and the nation.
TPS superintendent, Dr. Deborah Gist, has made clear students will learn the complete history of Tulsa, including the massacre.
“Tulsa will continue teaching a full, honest, and complete history,” Gist tweeted after Walters’ remarks.
Students in Tulsa organize actions to save their school district from a political state takeover
Now, Walters war path against imaginary ‘wokeness’ has lead straight to Tulsa’s doorstep. Just weeks after his statement on the massacre, Walters launched a campaign to lower the district’s accreditation and remove superintendent Gist at the August 24th state board of education meeting. If successful, Walters could initiate a state-takeover of the district, following the path Texas took in Houston. This would allow him to strip away local control and install a new superintendent accountable only to him.
But, like Arkansas, Tulsa is also fighting back.
City leaders across political and ideological backgrounds have taken a clear stance against Walters’ actions. Parents and community members have organized actions, including launching a petition drive securing nearly 4000 signatures.
And on Saturday evening, Tulsa students hosted a student-led town hall to elevate their voices and concerns ahead of the state board vote.
Arkansas School says its intentions to teach students a full and rich picture of history remains clear
As the attempts to undermine history and public education become more widespread, so does community-driven resistance.
In a statement, leaders of eStem Public Charter School in Little Rock, Arkansas rebuffed the state’s decision.
Officials said they only became aware of the change through a phone call between the school’s leader and state department officials.
“Despite this news,” school leaders said, “we will continue to offer AP African American Studies as a local elective credit.”
“Although the full impact of our state’s intentions is vague, our intentions are clear,” the letter went on to read. “We will continue to teach AP African American Studies at eHS.”