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Who ‘banned’ what? Florida schools grapple with fallout from AP psychology dispute

The DeSantis administration’s latest culture war fight over a college-level psychology course is sending Florida schools scrambling to figure out how to handle the confusing standoff, with just days to spare before students return from summer break.

State education officials insisted late Friday that the Advanced Placement course under scrutiny can still be taught, after previously urging the College Board to exclude lessons surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity from the curriculum.

However, the nonprofit group has refused to make those changes, arguing that it would fundamentally alter what students are taught.

The quarrel puts the state’s education system back in the national spotlight as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis continues a presidential push emphasizing his fight against liberal “indoctrination” in the classroom. Now, the disagreement between Florida and the College Board — the second dust-up this year after the state objected to an African American history course — is having ramifications for local schools where some 27,000 students were expected to take AP Psychology this school year.

In the latest development, Florida’s Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said Friday that the state believes the course can be taught in its “entirety” and be “developmentally appropriate,” a stance that appears to differ from the College Board’s determination that the class was “effectively banned” there.

“College Board has suggested that it might withhold the ‘AP’ designation from its course in Florida, ultimately hurting Florida Students,” Diaz wrote in a Friday letter to school superintendents. “This is especially concerning given that the new school year begins in a week.”

But even with Diaz reassuring school leaders that the course will be available, several school districts have already backed away from using it this fall.

Some school districts have quickly pivoted to replacements, while others are still considering their options after the College Board stated Thursday — less than a week before the first day of school for some counties — that the psychology course could be unavailable this year.

“Continuing to offer AP Psychology would put nearly 1,300 … students in jeopardy of working toward college credit that would not be validated at the end of the school year,” Pinellas County Schools officials said in a statement announcing the district’s decision to drop the College Board course.

The dispute has been brewing since Florida education officials in May requested that the College Board omit lessons from the class that violated state rules prohibiting most lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. But the nonprofit balked at changing the course to fall into line with Florida’s policies, which are rooted in the parental rights law referred to as “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.

Schools in response are considering a range of options, such as Seminole County in central Florida where students who were taking AP Psychology are instead enrolling in AP Seminar. The course will emphasize the study of psychology and ensures students get a chance to earn college credit, according to school officials. AP Seminar is described as a wide-ranging course that delves into several “real-world topics and issues.”

“Our team has been working diligently to identify a solution that allows our students to pursue their educational interests and college credit while ensuring compliance with State Law,” superintendent Serita Beamon said in a statement. “We believe this solution provides both outcomes, and I’m proud of the tireless dedication of our leadership, school administration, and educators for ensuring our students have these kinds of opportunities.”

In nearby Lake County, schools are offering college-level psychology courses through other avenues: Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education, or AICE, and International Baccalaureate programs.

Pinellas County, where school starts on Wednesday, is making an “immediate, effective transition” from AP Psychology classes to Cambridge AICE Psychology courses at 16 campuses. School officials ordered AICE textbooks on Thursday — the same day it was announced the AP course could be disallowed. But there are more steps for the school district to take, such as registering teachers for the first available Cambridge training in September.

“While the timing of this change is not ideal, this shift to Cambridge AICE Psychology will ensure our students have the opportunity to earn college credit,” officials with Pinellas County Schools said.

Other school districts, such as Pasco and Hillsborough counties, also signaled their intention Friday to transition away from the AP course and toward AICE, while others said they will simply stop offering the College Board class.

“The School District of Palm Beach County has made the difficult decision to remove AP Psychology from our course offerings due to the uncertainty surrounding the viability of the AP Psychology exam and course credit in Florida,” Angela Cruz Ledford, spokesperson for the district, said in a statement.

School officials in Orange County, encompassing Orlando, are “working to identify alternative options” for some 2,474 students enrolled in AP Psychology. School starts for Orange County students on Wednesday.

For 346 students in Sarasota County slated to take AP Psychology, the “district’s leadership team, curriculum team, and our affected schools are currently working through possibilities,” officials with Sarasota County Schools said Friday. Classes begin Wednesday in Sarasota.

In Florida’s largest school district, Miami-Dade County, leaders are “exploring all options to provide students who were enrolled in the Advanced Placement Psychology course the opportunity to earn college credit,” officials said in a statement Friday. Miami-Dade County Public Schools start classes on Aug. 17.

Other Florida school districts initially pursued different means to proceed with the College Board course such as asking parents to sign a consent form before taking the class, or teaching the class and skirting the portions about gender. It’s unclear if these options will be allowed with the College Board signaling it will not offer an abridged course.

As schools scramble to find alternatives, the Florida Department of Education has attempted to deflect controversy by blaming the nonprofit for cutting off access to the course.

The agency maintains that it didn’t “ban” the class, but the College Board is standing by its stance that the state’s proposed changes would effectively prohibit students from taking the course.

“Our policy remains unchanged,” College Board officials said Thursday. “Any course that censors required course content cannot be labeled as ‘AP’ or the ‘Advanced Placement’ designation, and the ‘AP Psychology’ designation cannot be utilized on student transcripts.” 

Florida’s position, however, hasn’t slowed scrutiny both nationally and from some state leaders. The fight over AP Psychology has again brought attention to Florida’s education system after the state recently unveiled new Black history teaching standards instructing students that slaves learned skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit.” That language prompted sharp rebukes from Vice President Kamala Harris and Black conservatives.

“By further dismantling and taking public education backwards, the state has effectively crippled our ability to get ahead and thrive,” Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-Miami Gardens) said in a statement regarding the AP Psychology fracas. “Our kids will undoubtedly be paying for DeSantis’ indoctrination-at-all-costs for years to come.”

The Florida Association of District School Superintendents, meanwhile, is standing by the state’s position that there is no “ban” on the course.

“AP Psychology continues to be listed in Florida’s Course Code Directory and we hope that College Board will keep the best interests of students at the forefront and award college credit to all Florida students who successfully complete the AP Psychology exam,” Bill Montford, a former state senator and Leon County schools chief who serves as the group’s CEO, said in a statement.

Source: Politico