Florida school districts struggle to navigate confusion surrounding AP courses

Florida School Districts Navigate Controversial College-Credit Psychology Course Amid Dispute with College Board

As high-school students across the state of Florida gear up to head back to school this week, school district leaders are facing a multitude of challenges when it comes to a college-credit psychology course. The confusion surrounding this Advanced Placement (AP) psychology course stems from a controversial Florida law and state regulation that place restrictions on the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity topics.

According to reports, the Florida Department of Education recently informed school superintendents during a conference call that teaching a unit in the psychology course that dealt with “gender and sexual orientation” would be prohibited. In response, the College Board issued a statement stating that the state’s restrictions would prevent the course from being taught altogether.

However, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz fired back at the College Board, asserting in a memo that the course could indeed be taught “in its entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate.” Although this clarification was intended to address the confusion, uncertainty still lingers as classes are set to begin in many districts on Thursday. This poses a potential minefield for teachers, who must balance preparing students for college, adhering to course curriculum, and following state laws and regulations.

The varying responses from school districts reflect the complexity of the issue. Some districts have opted to drop the psychology course altogether and replace it with other college-credit classes. Others are proceeding with the AP course, which saw 28,000 Florida students enrolled last year. Meanwhile, some districts are grappling with deciding the best course of action.

One example is Broward County, where classes are scheduled to resume on August 21. The district announced that parental consent would be required for students to take the psychology course. Superintendent Peter Licata explained, “Recognizing the depth and breadth of topics covered in AP Psychology and in line with the importance of prioritizing student well-being and parental choice, we have decided to make enrollment for this elective an ‘opt-in’ process that expressly requires parental consent.”

In contrast, Pinellas County has decided to forego the College Board’s course and transition to a college-credit course offered by Cambridge AICE. Around 1,300 enrolled students in the county’s AP course have automatically been signed up for the Cambridge AICE course.

Suwannee County Superintendent of Schools Ted Roush has supported teaching the traditional AP psychology course but left the decision to individual school administrators. Roush emphasized the need for alignment with the state’s standards and compliance with a separate law that restricts biased and discriminatory content in schools.

The confusion surrounding the course has only escalated with Education Commissioner Diaz’s memo. The Florida Education Association teachers’ union and the Florida PTA have called upon Diaz to provide further clarification on the state’s stance. They argue that the subsequent condition of teaching in an “age and developmentally appropriate” manner is ambiguous and requires additional explanation.

In addition to the challenges posed by the controversy surrounding the course, local school officials are also contending with teacher and staff shortages, a statewide universal voucher program, and an oppressive heat wave. Bill Montford, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, acknowledged the heightened tension during this time but assured that the association is assisting districts in ensuring compliance with state standards for those who wish to continue offering the course.

The decision to drop the college-credit course entirely could have financial implications for educators, as they receive bonuses based on their students’ grades on course exams. Montford emphasized the complexity of the issue, noting, “There’s a lot at stake here, for the students. For an AP class, there are financial implications, there are educational implications, and so there’s a lot to consider.”

As school districts strive to find the best resolution, the controversy surrounding the College Board’s psychology course adds another layer of complexity to an already stressful time for administrators, teachers, students, and parents.

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