Students, attorneys outline fight against Florida over rejected AP African American Studies course

Attorneys Ben Crump, Craig Whisenhunt intend to file a lawsuit against state

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Students planning to fight against Florida’s rejection of an AP African American Studies course met in Tallahassee with their attorneys, including Ben Crump, to lay out their intent for a lawsuit.

The students and their advocates rallied in Tallahassee, joined by members of Florida’s Legislative Black Caucus, on Wednesday afternoon.

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The event comes after the Florida Department of Education rejected the AP course earlier in January, claiming that it “lacks educational value and historical accuracy.”

Throughout the event, Crump and the other speakers took jabs at Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz.

“Gov. DeSantis, are you really trying to lead us into a new era akin to communism that provides censorship of free thoughts?” Crump said.

Crump and attorney Craig Whisenhunt laid out their intention to file suit in Florida court against the state on behalf of three students, who would be the lead plaintiffs.

Whisenhunt said there is already a legal precedent that should bar the state from rejecting the AP African American Studies course.

“We have been here before and Ron DeSantis clearly did not learn from history,” Whisenhunt said. “Back in 2010, a Republican-led government in Arizona tried this very same thing regarding Mexican American studies and it took years — nearly seven before a federal court shut that down.”

Whisenhunt said he believes that the decision of the DeSantis administration to reject the course violates the federal and state constitution.

“This lawsuit — if it comes down to it, if we have to exercise our remedies through the courts — has been litigated in the past successfully against the government on the governor’s own arguments,” he said.

After laying out their case against the state, the attorneys brought up the students who could be plaintiffs in the case to speak.

“Gov. DeSantis decided to deny the potentially life-changing class and effectively censor the freedom of our education and shield us from the truths of our ancestors,” said Elijah Edwards, a high school sophomore. “I thought here in this country, we believe in the free exchange of ideas, not the suppression of it.”

Dr. Robert Patterson is an African American studies professor at Georgetown University. He’s also the co-chair of the Development committee for the pilot course.

“For me, it boils down to anti-black racism and white supremacy,” said Dr. Patterson. “It’s a bit annoying that people who are not experts in the field have decided - and think they can decide what has value, what has integrity.”

“There are many gaps in American history regarding the African American population,” said Victoria McQueen, a junior at Leon High School in Tallahassee. “The implementation of an AP African American history class will fill in those gaps.”

“Education is expanding, and students have higher levels of curiosity than ever before,” said honor student Juliette Heckmen.

Following the news conference, the commissioner of education took to social media to push back against the students and their advocates.

In its rejection of the AP course, FDOE cited that several of the readings and topics included communist authors or intersectional language, which violates educational guidelines for the state.

News 6 has reached out to the governor’s office for comment on the planned lawsuit and the news conference. This story will be updated if we receive a statement from DeSantis’ office.

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About the Authors:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.