Florida education commissioner says AP Psychology course will ‘remain’ despite The College Board’s ban

Northeast Florida school districts respond

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s restrictions on instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity have “effectively banned” an Advanced Placement psychology course throughout the state, according to the organization that develops the college-level courses offered to high-school students.

The Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said Friday in a letter that the course can continue to be taught in Florida schools and Northeast Florida school districts are also responding.

“College Board has suggested that it might withhold the ‘AP’ designation from this course in Florida, ultimately hurting Florida students. This is especially concerning given that the new school year begins in a week. I want to be clear, AP Psychology is and will remain in the course code directory making it available to Florida students,” the letter read.

The College Board, which develops the courses, said in a press release Thursday that the state Department of Education told school superintendents that content in the course violates state law.

Instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited from being included in lessons for Florida students in kindergarten through eighth grade, under a law (HB 1069) signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May.

St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson sent an email to school leaders, saying, “I encourage you to stay the course and keep AP Psy in your master schedule .. we will work with your teachers to ensure all standards are taught within the law.”

A spokesperson for Duval County Public Schools said it will continue to monitor the situation as AP Psychology classes remain on the schedule.

DCPS said every school that offers the course is working on a contingency plan that will provide students with either an accelerated college credit option or an honors option in the event a different course is in the best interest of students and teachers based on state law and requirements for AP college credit.

“If it is necessary to implement a contingency plan, each school will work directly with impacted families to determine the best path forward for each student under the circumstances,” the spokesperson said in a statement to News4JAX.

According to the spokesperson, there are around 1,100 students enrolled in the course and it’s offered at 10 district schools and one charter school in Duval County.

It’s unclear what caused this confusion over the course.

Separately, the state Board of Education earlier this summer approved a rule that requires teachers to follow a prohibition on sexual orientation and gender identity instruction in high school, unless lessons are required by state academic standards or are “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.”

The College Board said Thursday that the state’s restrictions prohibit the teaching of the AP Psychology course.

“We are sad to have learned that today the Florida Department of Education has effectively banned AP Psychology in the state by instructing Florida superintendents that teaching foundational content on sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under state law. The state has said districts are free to teach AP Psychology only if it excludes any mention of these essential topics,” the College Board said in a press release.

According to the College Board, more than 28,000 Florida students took the AP Psychology course last school year. The 2023-2024 academic year starts as early as next week for some Florida school districts.

The AP course “asks students to ‘describe how sex and gender influence socialization and other aspects of development.’ This element of the framework is not new: gender and sexual orientation have been part of AP Psychology since the course launched 30 years ago,” the release said.

The College Board “cannot modify AP Psychology in response to regulations that would censor college-level standards for credit, placement, and career readiness,” the release also said.

State education officials, however, disputed the College Board’s stance on the issue.

“Just one week before school starts, the College Board is attempting to force school districts to prevent students from taking the AP Psychology Course. The Department didn’t ‘ban’ the course. The course remains listed in Florida’s Course Code Directory for the 2023-24 school year. We encourage the College Board to stop playing games with Florida students and continue to offer the course and allow teachers to operate accordingly,” Department of Education spokeswoman Cassandra Palelis said in an email Thursday.

Palelis also said “other advanced course providers (including the International Baccalaureate program) had no issue providing the college credit psychology course.”

The dispute over the AP Psychology course is not the first time DeSantis and state education officials have clashed with the College Board. In January, the state objected to several topics that were proposed for inclusion in an AP African American studies course that was being developed.

The controversy over the African American studies course prompted DeSantis, who is running for president, to say that the state would “look to re-evaluate” its relationship with the organization.

News of the conflict over the psychology course drew criticism of the state’s restrictions on instruction.

LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Florida accused DeSantis and his administration of trying to “rewrite AP Psychology curriculum to enforce their image” of America.

“Governor DeSantis will undermine any student’s education, revoke any parent’s rights, and demolish any curriculum to remake Florida’s schools into right wing propaganda machines in service to his political ambitions,” Equality Florida said in a press release.

The American Psychological Association also weighed in on the issue.

“An advanced placement course that ignores the decades of science studying sexual orientation and gender identity would deprive students of knowledge they will need to succeed in their studies, in high school and beyond,” Arthur C. Evans Jr., the CEO of the association, said in a statement Thursday.

Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Tamarac, said scrapping the course would deny students the opportunity to learn.

“Ignoring important topics doesn’t make them go away, it hinders the ability to engage thoughtfully in a diverse society. By excluding these lessons, Florida lacks an opportunity to reduce prejudice and prepare students for a more loving future,” Osgood, a former Broward County School Board member, said in a release.

The College Board’s AP Psychology Development Committee also offered a defense of the course’s content.

“As a committee, we affirm that gender and sexual orientation are essential, longstanding, and foundational topics in the study of psychology. College-level introductory psychology students will encounter gender and sexual orientation as topics of study,” the committee said in a statement.

About the Author:

Ryan Dailey is a reporter with experience in print and radio, having covered state and local news in Tallahassee since 2014. A graduate of Florida State University, Dailey has been a resident of the capital city since 2012. He joined the News Service of Florida in 2021, reporting with a focus on education and education policy.