Future of AP Psychology classes in Florida remains uncertain as school superintendents seek clarity

Gov. Ron DeSantis notes there are alternatives to AP courses
Posted at 7:43 PM, Aug 04, 2023

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — There are more questions than answers as parents and teachers now weigh in on the latest war over an AP course's content in the Sunshine State. This time it's AP Psychology, which Florida officials have said conflicts with new rules limiting education on sexuality in public schools.

For about 30 years, AP Psychology has been in high schools across the state. But this year, its future looks uncertain following a dispute between the Florida Department of Education and the nonprofit that oversees the courses, College Board.

State officials are trying to get the nonprofit to carve out at least some of the psychology course's content on sexuality, saying they violate new Florida administrative rules. The Florida State Board of Education approved them in April, limiting the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation through the 12th grade outside of optional health classes.

"It's not changing anything," Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said in April. "All it's saying is that you are complying with our standards, and that's what you should be teaching."

With the controversy sending some districts into a last-minute scramble to determine alternatives to the course before the start of school, Diaz sent a letter to superintendents on Friday to ease anxieties. The commissioner said the education department believed there was a way the psychology courses could be taught in full and follow Florida's limitations.

"As our team shared yesterday, the Department of Education is not discouraging districts from teaching AP Psychology," Diaz said. "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."

The College Board offered a cautious response shortly afterward. Officials with the nonprofit remained leery but hopeful Florida DOE was being truthful.

"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,'" said the College Board. "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."

Parents, meanwhile, are not happy with the fiasco.

Judi Hayes, whose 10th grad student attends Orange County Public Schools, said it was frustrating to have the dispute emerge days before the start of the new school year. She's also worried it'll create a potential disadvantage for her student.

"My son is looking at these top-tier universities outside of Florida, where you have to take these AP classes even to be considered," Hayes said. "There's no path to an Ivy or an Ivy Plus or any of those top tier schools without having, not one or two, but these kids are taking 30 AP classes."

For now, the College Board doesn't look to be budging on its stance. It's said the course needs to be taught in full and that the longstanding Psychology topics on sexuality are "essential."

Former AP Psychology educators agree.

"Now you are being put in a position where you have to completely omit an entire important part of the curriculum," Francis, who used to teach the course in a Florida public school, said. "Essentially, you will have to be dishonest to your students. You have to lie to your students and that is not what we educators are in for, right?"

Francis is a nonbinary educator, who recently left traditional public school for a Montessori program in Ocoee, Florida.

"The message to the Board of Education?" Francis said. "Come sit in a class and look at how we teach gender development. All right? There's no sexualizing of kids going on what their people claim, right? That's absolutely not happening."

Even so, on the campaign trail, Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to tout his education reforms. When asked about the issue, Friday, DeSantis noted there are alternatives to AP courses.

"We do have AP. We have Cambridge. We have International Baccalaureate, and we've really expanded dual enrollment with our community colleges," DeSantis said. "So, that's part of our course catalog. It's being offered. I think they have taken it back. I think that's a mistake, and I bet you it'll end up being offered."

The first day of class is now coming fast. Some of Florida's school districts head back Aug. 10.