Ron DeSantis threatened with student lawsuit after African American studies ban

A photo of Florida governor Ron DeSantis wearing a dark suit, white shirt and red tie standing in a room with the background showing books on shelves

A civil rights lawyer and group of high school students intend to file a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the state after an African American Studies course was banned. 

The Florida Department of Education informed the College Board of its decision to ban the advanced placement (AP) course on African American studies on 12 January

The decision, which became public last week, has drawn widespread criticism from Black leaders, academics and even the White House.

DeSantis later blamed the ban on queer people.

In a statement to The Hill last week, DeSantis’ office identified the Department of Education’s key concerns with the course; including 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 were also reportedly a cause for concern. 

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On Wednesday (25 January), it was announced that three AP honours students – Elijah Edwards, Victoria McQueen and Juliette Heckman – will be the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit against DeSantis. 

The legal action is backed by civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump and attorney Craig Whisenhunt, who will be representing the three students. 

At a press conference on Wednesday, Crump asked the room: “Will we let governor DeSantis or anybody exterminate Black history in the classrooms across America?”

“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,” he said. 

The announcement was to give DeSantis notice that, if he does not allow the course to run, these students will seek legal action against him and the state. 

Crump continued: “If he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African American studies to be taught in classrooms across the state of Florida, these three young people will be the lead plaintiffs.”

Despite the prominent backlash, DeSantis has stood firm on banning the course. 

Speaking at a press conference unveiling his 2023 education platform on Monday (23 January), DeSantis told reporters that Florida wants “education, not indoctrination”.

“In the state of Florida, our education standards not only don’t prevent but they require teaching Black history, all the important things. That’s part of our core curriculum. 

“This was a separate course on top of that for advanced placement credit and the issue is we have guidelines and standards in Florida. We want education, not indoctrination.”

Queer people to blame for the ban

DeSantis went on to cite queer theory as a reason for banning the course altogether. 

“This course, on Black history, what’s one of the lessons about? Queer theory!

“Now who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids, and so when you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that’s a political agenda. And so, that’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards.”

“When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory,” Ron DeSantis continued, “you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”

Last week, the White House called Florida’s rejection of the course “incomprehensible”.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “It is incomprehensible to see that this is what this ban or this block to be more specific, that DeSantis has put forward if you think about the study of Black Americans, that is what he wants to block.”

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