City high school students will be required to take a class in African and African American history to graduate, a move that education experts believe is unique in the nation.

The requirement in the 185,000-student district, which is about two-thirds black, begins with September's freshman class, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday.

The yearlong course covers subjects including classical African civilizations, civil rights and black nationalism, said Gregory Thornton, the district's chief academic officer. The other social studies requirements are American history, geography and world history.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools (search), an advocacy group for big city school districts, said Philadelphia appeared to be in the forefront with such a requirement.

"Courses on the subjects are offered as electives in other cities," he said.

Some parents opposed requiring the course, including Miriam Foltz, president of the Home and School Association at Baldi Middle School.

"There are other races in this city," said Foltz, who is white. "There are other cultures that will be very offended by this. How can you just mandate a course like this?"

While acknowledging it would be better to have courses adequately reflecting all cultures, district officials said African and African American history had been neglected too long.

"We have a whole continent that has been absent from most of our textbooks," said Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer.