Florida Implements Restrictions on AP Psychology Curriculum Due to Gender and Sexuality Chapter

Florida superintendents have received guidance from the state, instructing them to remove any topics related to gender or sexuality from their Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology classes. The College Board, responsible for overseeing the AP program, reported that if these topics are excluded, the courses cannot retain the title of Advanced Placement, nor can they be used by students to earn college credit. The College Board is also advising Florida school districts not to offer the AP Psychology classes until the state reevaluates its decision, as teaching the course in its current form would violate either state law or college requirements.

Expressing disappointment, the College Board stated that the Florida Department of Education’s recent action effectively bans AP Psychology in the state. The organization highlights that teaching foundational content on sexual orientation and gender identity is now considered illegal under state law. Florida districts are only allowed to offer AP Psychology courses if they completely exclude any mention of these crucial topics.

Earlier, in June, the College Board had announced that it would not modify the popular AP Psychology class despite the state’s request for a review of all AP courses to ensure compliance with a Florida law and state Board of Education rule concerning instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Florida’s school superintendents received news of the state education department’s decision during a conference call on a Thursday morning. The decision poses a challenge for school districts as they may need to make quick adjustments to many students’ schedules just days before the start of the new school year. This fall, approximately 30,000 students were already enrolled in the course across the state, as reported by the College Board, which also oversees the SAT.

The nonprofit expressed its concern, stating that teachers across Florida are heartbroken as they are now compelled to drop the Advanced Placement (AP) course and teach alternative subjects deemed legally acceptable because they exclude certain topics.

Mark Rendell, the superintendent of Brevard County schools on Florida’s east coast, conveyed his concerns in an email to school board members. He called the situation “problematic,” emphasizing that many students had enrolled in the AP Psychology course with the aim of earning college credit. Additionally, some students were seeking an AP Capstone designation or AP Scholar designation, for which this course was necessary.

Rendell assured that the district would explore other options and collaborate with high schools, students, and parents to determine the best way forward in light of the recent developments.

Florida’s state education agency issued a statement placing the blame on the College Board for a last-minute change that has affected Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology courses in the state. According to the agency, the College Board’s refusal to comply with Florida law has led to the organization pressuring school districts to prevent students from taking the class.

In response, Cassie Palelis, the Deputy Director of Communications, clarified that the Department did not officially “ban” the course, as it is still listed in Florida’s Course Code Directory for the 2023-2024 academic year. However, she urged the College Board to stop playing games with Florida students and continue offering the AP Psychology course, allowing teachers to operate within the legal framework.

Palelis pointed out that other advanced course providers, including the International Baccalaureate program, had no issue offering the college credit psychology course in compliance with Florida’s requirements. The state education agency emphasizes the importance of providing educational opportunities to students and hopes for a resolution that allows students to continue benefiting from the course.

Frustration Over Access to AP Psychology Grows Among Florida Students
The shifting access to AP Psychology has left many students in Florida upset and disappointed. In Tallahassee, the state capital, Leon County Schools had initially planned to offer the class at all six of its high schools for the upcoming fall semester. As of Thursday, a total of 381 students were eagerly enrolled to take the course.

Walt Haber, a rising senior at Leon High School, was among those looking forward to taking AP Psychology during the new school year. Having already completed most of the AP classes available at his high school, the psychology course was one of his remaining AP options. However, his excitement was dampened by the sudden changes.

“It’s very frustrating,” expressed Haber, who is now 18. “I was excited to take this class, and I am disappointed in the state’s decision that affects my education.”

The impact extends beyond just one student. Over 28,000 students in Florida attended AP Psychology classes across 562 schools during the last academic year, according to the College Board. Noah Summerlin, another rising senior at Leon High School who completed the AP Psychology course last year, shared his strong reaction to the situation.

“As a student who personally benefited from the knowledge imparted by the AP Psychology course, I’m beyond upset,” Summerlin said. He further emphasized that high school students are capable of critical thinking and rational decision-making, and the exclusion of certain fields of psychology by Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republicans interferes with the rights of Florida’s public school students to a comprehensive and unrestricted education.

Seeking Alternatives to AP Psychology?
For students seeking a college-level psychology class in high school, there may be alternative options available. The International Baccalaureate and Cambridge AICE program offer psychology courses, but their decision to comply with Florida’s request to exclude discussions related to gender and sexuality has drawn criticism from The College Board.

The College Board’s development committee, comprised of educators who create the AP Psychology exam, expressed surprise and disagreement with the exclusion of such fundamental topics. They assert that no experienced educator or practitioner in their field would support the decision to restrict these subjects from classroom instruction.

In response, Cambridge clarified that they have not altered their course content but have instead ensured that their materials align with Florida law. Despite the criticism, these programs continue to offer psychology courses to high school students with certain content restrictions in place.

The Clash Between AP Psychology and Florida Law
For the past three decades, gender and sexual orientation have been integral components of the AP Psychology curriculum, as maintained by The College Board.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential race, signed the Parental Rights in Education act last year. This measure, often referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten to 12th grade. The law now extends to the 12th grade as of this year.

The contested portion of the AP Psychology curriculum is unit 6.7, which delves into gender and sexuality, encompassing the definitions of gender, sexuality, gender roles, stereotypes, and their socialization aspects.

The state’s decision to exclude these topics from the AP Psychology course has elicited strong reactions from various groups. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, condemned the move, branding it a “disturbing” attempt to rewrite history. HRC President Kelley Robinson emphasized that the College Board’s AP Psychology curriculum is science-driven and has garnered support from both educators and experts, indicating that excluding LGBTQ+ content is detrimental to students.

The American Psychological Association (APA) also voiced disappointment, deeming the removal of this course an “enormous disservice” to students. APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr. emphasized that requiring censored educational material deprives students of essential knowledge regarding psychological research on human development, hindering their academic success both in high school and beyond.

Tensions Rise as Florida and College Board Clash on Curriculum
The dispute between Florida and the College Board extends beyond just the AP Psychology class. Recently, Florida’s administration rejected the College Board’s AP African American Studies course, arguing that it violated state law due to its inclusion of topics like Black Lives Matter, Black feminism, and reparations.

At the center of the conflict is Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act,” which imposes restrictions on discussions of race in schools, colleges, and workplaces. The act also prohibits teaching that might make students feel personally responsible for historic injustices based on their race, color, sex, or national origin. This has led to a contentious standoff with the College Board over the appropriate content of educational curricula.