Metro Weekly

Florida School Districts Dropping AP Psychology Due to LGBTQ Content

8 of the 11 school districts with the most students seeking to enroll in the course will instead offer an alternative curriculum.

Illustration: Gerd Altmann, via Pixabay

Several Florida school districts are dropping plans to offer Advanced Placement Psychology as a course offering after state officials claimed that relatively benign standards acknowledging LGBTQ identity might violate the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Earlier this year, Florida Department of Education officials warned school superintendents that they may only offer the AP Psychology course in their districts if material related to sexual orientation or gender identity is removed. Districts were encouraged to have teachers offer a modified version of the class.

But the College Board, which runs the Advanced Placement program — through which high school students can earn college credits — said that any modified version of the class would not be compliant with college requirements, and could therefore cannot be called an “Advanced Placement” course. Last week, the College Board said the course was “effectively banned” in the state and advised school districts not to offer the course — regardless of any preparations they’d already made.

Since the course launched in 1993, it has asked students to “describe how sex and gender influence socialization and other aspects of development.” But experts familiar with the test say that the only real requirement is that students learn the definitions of, and differences between, sexual orientation and gender identity. Those experts argue that Florida is overreacting to any mention of LGBTQ-related topics in the course, despite actual instruction not delving deeply into the topic.

Under the state’s so-called “Parental Rights in Education Act,” dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics — not to mention rules and professional standards approved by the Florida Department of Education — teachers are prohibited from including lessons or providing “instruction” on sexual orientation or gender identity in all K-12 classrooms throughout the state. Sexual orientation may be broached only in limited exceptions, such as a biology, health, or sex education class at the high-school level.

The law’s prohibitions have left districts and teachers panicked that they could run afoul of the law if students or parents complained about the course’s LGBTQ content — however scant and limited it may be. Under the “Don’t Say Gay” law, violators can have their teaching licenses suspended or revoked. 

Further complicating the matter, Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr., said in a press release — after the state received negative press — that the Florida Department of Education believes schools can offer the course “in its entirety” but also said that its lessons or topics of study should be broached “in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate.”

Although some, including the College Board, saw Diaz’s concession as a victory for embattled teachers, many more saw it as yet another inconsistency in what state officials deem as “appropriate” for classroom instruction, reports The Washington Post.

Seeking clearer guidance, the Florida Education Association asked Diaz to “clearly and unambiguously” confirm that teaching AP Psychology “in its entirety” would not violate state law. The Florida Parent-Teacher Association also asked the education department to clarify its stance on the issue. But the department has declined to respond to either organization, or to reporters, questioning whether the course can be taught with LGBTQ-related content intact.

According to the Post, 562 schools across Florida offer AP Psychology. Last year, according to the College Board, more than 28,600 Florida students took the AP Psychology course exam — comprising just under 10% of the total 292,000 students across the nation who took the exam.

Wary that Diaz may either reverse his most recent statement or double-down on his demands for censorship, particularly if pressured by his fellow Republicans — especially Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made his support of the law an essential part of his “brand” as he seeks the Republican nomination for the presidency — eight of the 11 school districts with the largest enrollments in the state have decided to switch to alternative, non-AP courses. 

“It has become clear that offering the Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology Course to our students this school year could be detrimental to our students, and our instructors,” Brevard County Schools said in a statement. “There is content in the AP Psychology curriculum required by the College Board, that violates recently enacted state legislation.

“The College Board has indicated that if our instructors do not teach all of the content in the course, including the section that violates state law, they will not certify the course. It will not count as an AP course. Students will lose the opportunity to earn college credit,” the district noted. “Conversely, if our instructors teach all of the content in the course, they will violate state law. In essence, if we don’t teach all of the content, our students will not receive AP credit. If we do teach all of the content, our instructors will violate the law. Therefore, we will not offer AP Psychology at any of our high schools this year.”

Districts in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties — all in the Tampa Bay area — have announced they’ll instead be teaching a college-level psychology course offered by Cambridge International’s Advanced International Certificate of Education program. Cambridge International has previously claimed that its course allows schools and districts the flexibility to pick and choose which topics to cover in psychology classes — meaning they can avoid any mention of LGBTQ-related psychological issues.

Meanwhile, Seminole County, in the Orlando suburbs, said it would instead teach an AP Seminar course emphasizing the study of psychology. Duval, Orange, and Brevard counties — covering Jacksonville, Orlando, and the Space Coast, respectively — have said they’ll replace AP Psychology with an alternative course, such as Cambridge International’s course or the AP Seminar course. And South Florida’s Palm Beach County said it would not offer AP Psychology but declined to say what course, if any, would replace it. 

Officials at two other counties in South Florida — Miami-Dade and Broward — have not yet made a decision about course offerings. 

In the Jacksonville suburbs, St. Johns County Public Schools has said it will offer AP Psychology when classes resume in the fall. A spokeswoman for the district told the Post that the district had received calls from parents expressing “concern and disappointment” at the prospect of canceling the class.

Superintendent Tim Forson wrote to school administrators encouraging them to offer the class, citing Diaz’s statement about teaching the course in its entirety while promising to also “ensure all standards are taught within the law.”

The battle over AP Psychology is just one of several being waged in Florida over curriculum content, with many conservatives claiming that “woke” ideologies — such as political correctness, racial sensitivity, and LGBTQ advocacy — have infiltrated Florida classrooms and are being taught without parents’ knowledge.

Earlier this year, in January, the Florida Department of Education clashed with the College Board over its AP African American Studies course after officials declared the curriculum to “lack educational value” and of being politically-motivated. The College Board subsequently modified the course, in response to conservative complaints.

More recently, state education officials — and Gov. DeSantis — have received criticism for overhauling history standards related to teaching about slavery, including instructing teachers to tell students that enslaved people “developed skills” that “could be applied for their personal benefit.”

This week, in another education-related battle, Hillsborough County English teachers were told to only teach excerpts from some William Shakespeare plays, instead of the full texts, in the hope of insulating students from being exposed to sexual content in those plays, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

A district spokeswoman subsequently cited the parental rights/”Don’t Say Gay” law as justification for the curriculum change, saying: “We need to make sure our students are prepared with enough material during the year so they will be prepared for” yearly state assessments.

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