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Psyched out: How the DeSantis administration duped the media
For 30 years, the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) course on Psychology has included lessons on gender and sexual orientation. Understanding these topics is “fundamental to psychology,” the American Psychological Association (APA) says.
In Florida, AP Psychology is one of the most popular AP courses — last year, more than 28,000 students took the class. But this past May, Florida education officials asked the College Board to revise its AP Psychology curriculum, citing a new state law restricting instruction on gender identity and sexuality through 12th grade.
The nonprofit, however, refused. Gender and sexual orientation, the College Board said, “must remain a required topic, just as it has been in Florida for many years.” And Florida officials, according to the College Board, told districts that they “are free to teach AP Psychology only if it excludes any mention of these essential topics.” On August 3, College Board announced that AP Psychology was “effectively banned” in Florida.
“Any course that censors required course content cannot be labeled ‘AP’ or ‘Advanced Placement,’ and the ‘AP Psychology’ designation cannot be utilized on student transcripts,” the group wrote. “To be clear, any AP Psychology course taught in Florida will violate either Florida law or college requirements.”
In response, the Florida Department of Education (DOE) denied that the course had been banned. A spokesperson for the DOE, Cassie Palelis, accused College Board of “playing games with Florida students” and blamed the nonprofit for “forc[ing] school districts to prevent students from taking the AP Psychology Course.”
A day later, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. reiterated this narrative. "College Board has suggested that it might withhold the 'AP' designation from this course in Florida, ultimately hurting Florida students,” Diaz wrote in an August 4 letter to superintendents. He stated that the DOE is “not discouraging districts from teaching AP Psychology.” AP Psychology, Diaz said, “can be taught in its entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate.”
“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 stated following Diaz’s letter.
The DeSantis administration is eager to portray the exchange as a resolution of the conflict. And the media has largely accepted this narrative. But, days before the state's school year begins, confusion reigns. In the end, thousands of Florida students may be denied the opportunity to take AP Psychology.
Immediately following Diaz's August 4 letter to superintendents, numerous media outlets reported that Florida had "reversed" its position on AP Psychology.
"Florida and the College Board appear to have come to a resolution over the inclusion of LGBTQ topics in the state’s Advanced Placement Psychology classes," NBC News reported. But there is no resolution of the key issues related to the course.
Specifically, while Diaz has told superintendents that the course could be "taught in its entirety," he emphasized that it also must be taught "in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate." Diaz does not define what that means. Further, the AP Psychology course still includes coursework on sexual orientation and gender identity. Diaz did not alter Rule 6A-10.081 of the Principles of Professional Conduct for Florida teachers, which was amended in April to prohibit "classroom instruction to students in grades 4 through 12 on sexual orientation or gender identity unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards… or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend."
AP Psychology does not fit into either exception and violating the Principles of Professional Conduct "shall subject the individual to revocation or suspension of the individual educator’s certificate, or the other penalties as provided by law."
So what Diaz has done is not reverse Florida's position but resolved the DeSantis' administration's political problem. The August letter resulted in headlines stating that Florida would allow the course. But now teachers are faced with a Sophie's choice. A teacher can exclude the content in AP Psychology related to sexual orientation and gender identity and put their students at risk of not receiving college credit. Or a teacher can include those topics and risk losing their certification and their job.
That's why, despite the upbeat headlines, the Florida Education Association, the state's teachers union, sent a letter to Diaz on August 5 urging him to provide clarity:
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[s]. Districts, parents, students, and teachers need to know AP Psychology can be offered in Florida's public schools in its entirety without any modifications, just as it has for decades, and be in compliance with the law.
The Florida PTA, the state's parent-teacher association, issued a similar letter on Monday, urging Diaz to state that parents would decide what is "developmentally appropriate" for their children and that teachers would not face disciplinary action for teaching the AP Psychology course.
We urge you to make the definition of “appropriate” a matter of informed parental discretion, and to state this explicitly. In a college-level course with the potential to guarantee college-level credit, it is understood that students will be asked to master content that in scope, rigor and required maturity level exceeds that generally offered at the secondary level. We further urge you to clarify that no instructor, administrator, school district or school board member will be sanctioned for offering or approving instruction in gender identity or sexual orientation to students whose parents approve their enrollment in AP Psychology.
The Florida PTA says it stands "against censorship" and urged Diaz "to correct our course and expand, rather than contract, our students’ horizons."
Florida school districts cancel AP Psychology
Despite Diaz’s insistence that AP Psychology can be “taught in its entirety,” several Florida public schools have already announced that they will no longer be offering AP Psychology due to unresolved legal issues. Brevard County, for example, has dropped AP Psychology, citing “concerns about legal repercussions against teachers.”
“As I stated before, if a teacher teaches all elements of the course, they will violate the law,” Brevard County Superintendent Mark Rendell wrote in an August 5 email. “If they do not teach all elements of the course the students lose the AP certification. I will not put either [our] students or staff in this position.”
Orange County Public Schools, which had the second highest enrollment in AP Psychology in Florida, said it “will move about 2,400 students signed up for AP psychology into other psychology courses before the new school year starts” due to “ambiguity” over the course. Superintendent Maria Vazquez told the Orlando Sentinel that district staff did not think they could offer AP Psychology and meet state rules.
The Sentinel also reports that “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.” Similarly, Palm Beach County announced that it is dropping the course due to “uncertainty surrounding the viability of the AP Psychology exam and course credit in Florida."
Meanwhile, Hillsborough, Pasca, and Pinellas county school districts are “pivoting to the college-level course offered by Cambridge International instead,” the Tampa Bay Times reports. Unlike the College Board, however, Cambridge International reportedly agreed to remove lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity, if present, from its Cambridge/AICE psychology course to ensure compliance with Florida law. They also signed a letter that affirms their course complies with Florida law. Despite this, Cambridge International officials “have insisted that they have not changed the psychology course and exam since the council recommended it a year ago for college credit.” Last week, the APA issued a letter asking the organization to reconsider its decision to censor its content, stating that an advanced psychology course cannot exclude instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Cambridge International did respond to a request for comment from Popular Information.