By Annie Ma and Adriana Gomez Licon | Associated Press
MIAMI — The first time the College Board bumped up against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s efforts to inject conservative ideals into education standards, it ultimately revamped the Advanced Placement course for African American studies, watering down curriculum on slavery reparations and the Black Lives Matter movement – and a nationwide backlash ensued.
Now, faced with altering its AP Psychology course to comply with Florida’s limits on teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity, the nonprofit College Board is pushing back. It advised the state’s school districts Thursday to not offer the college-level course to Florida’s high school students unless it can be taught in full.
The announcement sent shock waves across the state as students in many school districts prepare to return to school in less than a week. But because the College Board is standing by its decades-old psychology curriculum, school districts in the rest of the country are not being affected — unlike when it made changes to the African American studies curriculum.
In Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, the Leon County school district’s superintendent met with high school teachers and principals to decide what to do about the roughly 300 students who had already registered for the course this year — and who bank on AP classes to earn college credits. In Orlando, Orange County Public Schools sent a message to parents who have children who were registered for AP Psychology to say they were working to come up with other options.
The College Board said in a statement that it was “sad” to have taken this step but that its hands had been tied by the DeSantis administration, which “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.”
Florida’s Department of Education rejected the assertion that it had banned 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,” the department said in a statement.
Parents and students gearing up for the new school year were left trying to figure out what to do.
Brandon Taylor Charpied said his daughter, who goes to school in a suburb of Jacksonville, had been set to take an AP psychology course but made a last-minute switch a few weeks ago after “rumblings” about the rift between Florida and the College Board.
“To be fair, we saw the writing on the wall,” Charpied said. “It’s a very difficult situation for high schools to navigate right now with only days until the school year starts.”
Under an expanded Florida law, lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity are not allowed unless required by existing state standards or as part of reproductive health instruction that students can choose not to take. In the spring the state asked the College Board and other providers of college-level courses to review their offerings for potential violations.
The College Board refused to modify the psychology course to comply with Florida’s new legislation. The course asks students to describe how sex and gender influence a person’s development — topics that have been part of the curriculum since it launched 30 years ago.
In standing firm against pressure from Florida officials, the College Board, which administers the SAT and AP exams, has acknowledged missteps in the way it handled the African American studies curriculum.
“We have learned from our mistakes in the recent rollout of AP African American Studies and know that we must be clear from the outset where we stand,” the non-profit said in June.Literacy and free-speech experts lauded the College Board’s new approach.
“These concessions are not a strategy that’s working,” said Kasey Meehan, the Freedom to Read program director at PEN America, a nonprofit dedicated the advancement of literature and human rights. “It’s not like there’s some common middle ground and then we’ve resolved it and moved on.”
Meehan said that while other states may not have gone as far as Florida in asking for course revisions, legislation across the country is having a chilling effect on teachers at all grade levels. Even if concepts are not explicitly banned, many educators are left in the dark about what they may get in trouble for teaching in the classroom, she said.
“We have heard that it’s hard to teach about everything from the Civil War to Harvey Milk, who is the first openly gay elected official in California,” Meehan said. “There’s just an increased culture of fear and intimidation that’s playing out.”
The American Psychological Association said Florida’s new policy means students will receive an incomplete education.
“Requiring what is effectively censored educational material does an enormous disservice to students across Florida, who will receive an incomplete picture of the psychological research into human development,” said Arthur Evans Jr., CEO of the association.
Ma reported from Washington, D.C.