Central Florida schools drop AP psychology amid ‘confusion’ over legality

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Central Florida public schools do not plan to offer Advanced Placement psychology this school year as administrators remain uncertain about the state’s position on a course that includes a section on gender and sexual orientation, topics they view as banned from most Florida classrooms.

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz on Friday sent a letter to superintendents that said the AP psychology course could be taught “in its entirety.” That seemed a shift from what school superintendents learned Thursday during a phone call with a top official in the Florida Department of Education, which Diaz runs.

But Diaz’s letter added that the course must be taught “in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate,” and he did not define what that last phrase meant.

That left many confused about the state’s position on a popular course that nearly 30,000 Florida students took last year and has been offered in its public schools for about 30 years. In recent days, both the Florida PTA and the Florida Education Association urged Diaz to clarify whether the full course, including section 6.7, on gender and sexual orientation, can be taught.

The Florida Department of Education, which Diaz runs, has not clarified nor responded to questions, however.

At issue is a State Board of Education rule, adopted in April at Diaz’s recommendation, that says teachers “shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction … on sexual orientation or gender identity” unless such lessons are required by Florida’s state standards. AP psychology, like other AP courses, is devised by the independent College Board, so it is not “expressly required by state academic standards.”

Teachers who violate the rule could face suspension or revocation of their teaching licenses. The rule essentially expanded Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed “don’t say gay” by critics because it barred classroom instruction in gender identity or sexual orientation for young students, so that it applied through high school.

Because “there’s ambiguity,” Orange County Public Schools will move about 2,400 students signed up for AP psychology into other psychology courses before the new school year starts Thursday, Superintendent Maria Vazquez said Monday.

The Lake, Osceola and Seminole county school districts all plan to do the same with their students who signed up for AP psychology for the coming year. So do some of Florida’s other large school districts, including those in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Palm Beach counties.

The Orange school district, which last year had the second highest enrollment in AP psychology in Florida, behind only Miami-Dade County, made the decision after Vazquez took part in a Thursday phone call between superintendents and the state’s chancellor of public schools, Paul Burns.

After that call, Vazquez said, OCPS staff felt it could not offer AP psychology and meet state rules, even by requiring parent permission for any student enrolled.

Diaz’s letter late Friday did not change administrators’ minds because they were not sure what he meant by “in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate,” she said.

“It’s very confusing,” she said. “We don’t want to add on more stress to our teachers.”

Katherine Crnkovich, a spokesperson for Seminole County Public Schools, said similar views guided her district’s decision to move everyone scheduled for AP psychology into other courses. Administrators did not want to “gamble” by putting students in a course that still might not be okay and also felt they had to “protect our educators” by only assigning them to teach courses they knew were fully approved.

The PTA in its statement Monday noted “continuing school district, parent, and student confusion regarding the meaning and implications of the phrase ‘in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate,’ in Diaz’s Friday letter.

The PTA urged Diaz’s office to “explicitly state” that schools can provide instruction “pertinent to gender identity and sexual orientation” included in the AP Psychology course and that teachers and administrators “will not face disciplinary action” as a result.

The education association, Florida’s statewide teachers union, on Saturday also urged Diaz to clarify the state’s position.

“We call on you to clearly and unambiguously state that nothing in the AP psychology course violates Florida statutes or Florida State Board of Education rule,” wrote Andrew Spar, the union’s president, in a letter to Diaz.

The College Board, which runs the 40-course AP program and also makes the SAT, said on Thursday that Florida had “effectively banned” AP psychology by not allowing discussion of gender and sexual orientation, which is part of a unit on developmental psychology. It told districts they could not drop that section and still call the course an AP class, nor would their students be eligible for college credit if they took an altered version.

On Friday, the College Board said in a statement that it was also looking for “clear” guidance from the state.

“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 organization said.

Many school districts that are moving students out of AP psychology are enrolling them instead in psychology classes offered by the International Baccalaureate program or the Cambridge International program, which do not include the topics of gender and sexual orientation, officials said. Some are also scheduling students for AP seminar, a research course where they can focus on psychology as a topic but not cover the full curriculum.

Florida has had a two-decade relationship with the College Board and its courses are popular among public school students looking for challenging classes and a chance to early college credit.

In 2021, Florida had the highest AP participation rate in the country and ranked second, behind only Connecticut, for the percentage of high school seniors who had passed at least one AP exam, the education department said. In 2022, Florida high school students took nearly 364,000 AP exams, College Board data shows.

But that relationship soured in the last year, most notably when Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration announced the rejection of the AP African American studies because of content it found objectionable.

DeSantis this spring signed legislation that allows students to use the Classic Learning Test in addition to the ACT and SAT to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships and that authorizes the development of a state-based alternative to the AP program.



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