Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) responded to criticism against the state rejecting an AP African-American Studies course on Monday, claiming it was “pushing a political agenda,” as his administration continues to pursue increasingly right-wing education policies.
Florida has come under fire after the state rejected the AP course, which DeSantis’ administration previously said “lacks educational value and is contrary to Florida law,” but did not specify what about the course was so objectionable.
DeSantis, who has made a number of reductive claims while adopting “concerning” education policies, was asked about the course at a press conference Monday, in which he responded the state wanted “education not indoctrination” and pointed to the course offering studies in “queer theory” and claiming it advocated for “abolishing prisons.”
The governor said that was a “political agenda” and on the “wrong side of the line,” claiming that the course “shoehorn[ing] in queer theory” meant the course developers were “clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
DeSantis said he wasn’t opposed to teaching Black history, and said Florida wanted to teach “education in a classical sense” based on “enduring topics” rather than “imposing some rote talking points” on “political skirmishes of the day.”
DeSantis held the press conference to roll out his agenda on education for the state legislature to pass in its legislative session this year, which included increasing teacher pay while also weakening teachers unions by prohibiting union dues from being automatically deducted from teacher paychecks and giving teachers increased power to push back on their school districts.
Florida’s rejection of the AP course has drawn widespread condemnation, with faith leaders and civil rights leaders in Florida planning a statewide response to protest the decision. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the move “incomprehensible” in a press conference, noting that the state allowed AP courses in European and Art History while blocking “a course that is meant for high-achieving high school students to learn about their history of arts and culture.” “It is not our place to direct or to be involved in any local school curriculum, but this is concerning,” Jean-Pierre said.
Florida rejecting the AP course was part of a broader slew of measures DeSantis and the Florida government have taken to combat left-leaning issues from being taught at the state’s schools. The state has enacted legislation aimed at prohibiting schools from teaching “critical race theory” or LGBTQ topics—which has garnered national controversy—along with enacting restrictions on books at school libraries and rejecting math textbooks for “impermissible” content. DeSantis and Florida officials have also installed right-leaning leadership at Florida public colleges and universities, including attempting to remake a small progressive college into a much more conservative institution and installing former Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) as the head of the University of Florida. DeSantis has also publicly backed a number of school board candidates who have won elections and sought to force out superintendents at Florida school districts, to be replaced with officials more in line with the governor’s policies. The governor said Monday he supported efforts to shorten term limits for school board members from 12 years to eight, backing a constitutional amendment that would put the issue of term limits to votes and also allow school board elections to be partisan.