Maryland School Plans to Cut African American Studies Over Claims It Is “Too Divisive”

Debate is raging in the Harford County school district after the school board voted to reject a proposed AP African American studies class designed for the public school curriculum.

School Board Says No

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A Maryland school board has voted against including a proposed AP course on African American studies into its curriculum, stirring up debate and discontent among teachers, board members, and the wider community.

Rejected After Pilot

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The Advanced Placement African American Studies course had been previously tested across three public schools in Harford County, before being rejected during a school board meeting late last month.

Claims of Divisiveness

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A majority of board members voted against the course, proposed by the national education non-profit org College Board, on the grounds that it was too divisive and centered a narrative of African American “victimhood.”

“This is Not It”

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“We need an African American AP course, but this is not it,” said board member Terry Kocher. 

Too Politically Oriented?

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“When I first heard of this course, I wished I could take it,” she continued. “But after seeing the curriculum, I was very disappointed with the topics being politically oriented that perpetuate the message of oppressed versus the oppressor.”

Covering Achievements Too

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While some insisted that the course focused too much on racism, politics, and historical injustices, the course also included an extensive focus on African American achievements in the sphere of art, film, music, and sports.

A Narrow Margin

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However, the vote against the course was hardly unanimous, with 5 board members voting against it and 4 voting in favor. 

Formal Letter of Disapproval

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It should be no surprise then that the decision has caused controversy in the Harford teaching community, provoking responses from teachers and board members, and even a formal letter of disapproval from the Harford County teachers union and two other labor groups following the announcement.

Teachers Unions Speak Out

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The letter was signed by presidents of the Harford County Teachers Association, the Association of Harford County Administrative, Technical and Supervisory Professionals, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Calling for Balance and “Both Sides”

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Board members voting against the AP course cited a need for “balance,” and to offer perspective from “both sides,” a perspective which was slammed by the union letter.

“There is Not ‘Both Sides’”

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“The board talks about creating ‘balance and both sides’ in courses; there is no ‘both sides’ to slavery or the horrors of Jim Crow laws in the South,” the letter read. “Instead of trusting the experts who have collectively dedicated decades of their lives to education, you continue to push your own political agenda regardless of whether it is educationally sound.”

Part of a Political Agenda?

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Chrystie Crawford-Smick, president of the Harford County Education Association, pointed out that none of the board members voting against it were educators, and claimed the decision was instead part of a “political agenda.”

Country Superintendent Speaks

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Harford County superintendent Sean Bulson also spoke out about the decision, saying he was “deeply saddened” by the board’s choice, and that the course would have offered “a more inclusive and authentic portrayal of American History.”

Most Who Enrolled Were Minorities

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Bulson pointed out that 75% of Harford students enrolled in the course were racial minorities, including many Black students who wanted to learn about topics that speak directly to their own identities. 

Large Minority Student Population

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According to a report from US News, Harford County Public Schools are comprised of 40.3% minority students, with 20.5% identifying as Black. 

NAACP Branch Responds

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Vicki Jones, who is president of the Harford branch of the NAACP, also hit back against board member claims that the course was too “divisive,” claiming that it was the board’s decision that truly caused divisiveness.

“History is History”

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“They’re really trying to write history in a way that still causes divisiveness,” Jones told reporters. “History is history. People will continue to repeat the things of the past if they don’t understand what happened.”

Piloted in 700 Schools

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The program is currently piloted in 700 schools across the US, with 31 of those schools located in Maryland. 

Scrambling to Find a New Class

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Nearly 100 students in Harford County had signed up to take the AP course in the next school year. Now those students will have to rush to find a replacement in their class schedule.

Potential for Approval

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However, this recent vote does not mean the end of the AP African American Studies course entirely. Instead, board president Aaron Poynton hopes the curriculum can be modified to reflect the board’s concerns, with the potential for approval at its next meeting on July 15. 

Only the Board Decides

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The course curriculum, which is decided by the governing body of the College Board, cannot be changed or added to by public school teachers or board members. 

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