AP Psychology could be allowed in Florida after all.
A day after news broke that the state Department of Education was effectively banning the course by prohibiting instruction on gender and sexual orientation, the department is now clarifying it will allow school districts to teach the class in full, according to a letter sent to superintendents.
“In fact, the Department believes that AP Psychology can be taught in its entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate and the course remains listed in our course catalog,” Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. wrote in a letter dated Friday.
The letter comes a day after the state advised superintendents they could offer AP Psychology but were instructed to exclude topics related to gender and sexual orientation to comply with Florida law, according to a statement by the College Board.
AP Psychology ‘effectively banned’because of conflict with Florida law on teaching gender, sexuality
The College Board, which runs the AP program, said this exclusion would “effectively ban” the class because such an adjustment would mean it couldn’t be called Advanced Placement or used to earn college credit.
“To be clear, any AP Psychology course taught in Florida will violate either Florida law or college requirements,” the College Board said Thursday. “Therefore, we advise Florida districts not to offer AP Psychology until Florida reverses their decision and allows parents and students to choose to take the full course.”
The nonprofit, which also administers the SAT, said Friday’s letter provided needed clarity for Florida educators. Nearly 30,000 Florida students were expecting to take the college-level course, and many school districts kick off the school year in just a few days.
“Today’s statement from the Florida Department of Education represents new guidance on AP Psychology,” the College Board said Friday. “While district superintendents continue to seek additional clarity from the department, we note the clear guidance that, ‘AP Psychology may be taught in its entirety.’
“We hope now that Florida teachers will be able to teach the full course, including content on gender and sexual orientation, without fear of punishment in the upcoming school year,” the College Board said.
Questions remain about the AP Psychology course
In Friday’s letter to superintendents, Diaz said he was writing “out of an abundance of caution” in response to the College Board’s earlier position.
“College Board has suggested that it might withhold the ‘AP’ designation from this course in Florida, ultimately hurting Florida students,” he wrote. “This is especially concerning given that the new school year begins in a week. I want to be clear, AP Psychology is and will remain in the course code directory making it available to Florida students.”
Diaz’s letter is an about face from the state’s position a day earlier, which blamed the College Board and its refusal to edit its AP Psychology curriculum for preventing students from taking the class this year. “The Department didn’t “ban” the course. The course remains listed in Florida’s Course Code Directory for the 2023-24 school year,” DOE spokesperson Cassie Palelis wrote in an email. “We encourage the College Board to stop playing games with Florida students and continue to offer the course and allow teachers to operate accordingly.”
Despite the state’s attempt at clarity, however, across Florida on Friday, districts were altering student schedules and crafting alternative ways to teach college-level psychology classes just days before the 2023-24 school year begins. Some such as Brevard Public Schools on Florida’s east coast, decided to nix the class altogether.
“The way to safeguard both our employees and students is to remove the course from our offerings,” wrote Superintendent Mark Rendell in an email to school board members on Friday afternoon.
In Leon County, which includes the state capital Tallahassee, the principal of Chiles High School sent a letter to parents informing them the school would not offer AP Psychology this year and would instead provide a college-level class through dual enrollment at Florida A&M University.
Clash between AP Psychology and Florida law
Last year, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running to be the Republican nominee for president, signed a state law known as the Parental Rights in Education act but derided by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The law outlawed instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. This spring, the law was expanded to all grades.
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The words “age appropriate,” which Diaz used in his letter, have been repeated often by the governor’s office and the state Department of Education to restrict the instruction of certain topics in K-12 grades. The state has never clearly defined the “age-appropriate” term.
Teachers could face suspension or revocation of their educator certificates, however, for violations of the rule if they “intentionally provide” instruction on gender and sexuality, according to the law.
Arthur C. Evans Jr., CEO of the American Psychological Association, said for the past three decades in Florida, educators have always taught AP Psychology at a level that is age and developmentally appropriate, and he didn’t know why the state attempted to take out information that is “fundamental to understanding people.”
“I think the lesson here is that issues of curriculum should be left to experts in the discipline, the educators who have taught this course for 30 years, and parents and students,” he said.
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Ana Goñi-Lessan is the State Watchdog Reporter for USA TODAY – Florida and can be reached at A[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan.