With discontent swirling over school districts canceling the popular Advanced Placement psychology course this fall, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. sent a memo to superintendents late Wednesday aimed at explaining why they can keep the class.
The course, typically taken by thousands of Florida students, had been caught up in controversy over whether its unit on gender identity and sexual orientation complied with state law restricting such lessons. The College Board, which administers Advanced Placement, said it would not recognize any course offerings as AP without the materials.
Districts across the state began dropping the course.
Diaz sent a letter last week saying schools could teach the course “in its entirety,” adding the qualifier that the lessons must be age-appropriate. That letter drew doubts and concerns from observers, including the Florida PTA and Florida Education Association, that it did not state clearly that the unit in question could be delivered.
In his Wednesday memo, Diaz wrote that he thought he had been clear enough previously.
“But I want to make sure there is no room for misinterpretation,” he continued. “It is the Department of Education’s stance that the learning target 6.P ‘Describe how sex and gender influence socialization and other aspects of development,’ within Topic 6.7, can be taught consistent with Florida law.”
Diaz went on to ask superintendents to confirm whether they would provide AP psychology for the new school year. About 30,000 students statewide had registered for the course, according to the College Board.
Pinellas County superintendent Kevin Hendrick, who had announced days earlier his district high schools would switch to Cambridge International’s AICE psychology course, said he had no plans to put teachers and students through any more change. He said AICE is similar to AP, and teachers attended training on Friday.
“We are sticking with AICE,” Hendrick said in a text message.
Hillsborough County superintendent Van Ayres said Thursday morning that he had no plans to change course after last week’s decision to offer more than 1,800 affected students the Cambridge class. But, he said, he planned to meet with senior staff to go over Diaz’s letter and discuss its implications.
Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning said receiving the latest information just hours before schools reopen made it difficult to shift from Cambridge, which he also had decided to do. But he planned to investigate the options for the approximately 1,100 students who had signed up for AP.
Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools
Subscribe to our free Gradebook newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“We’ve got to figure out what’s best for our kids, what’s best for our teachers,” Browning said, adding that he would discuss the issue with his staff and make a decision soon.
On Wednesday, the American Council on Education told Cambridge International it would not change its recommendation that the AICE exam and underlying syllabus are worth three undergraduate credit hours at accepting colleges and universities. The council earlier had raised questions about whether the Cambridge program had jeopardized its rating by saying it could meet state law without altering its materials.
Some other districts that had converted to Cambridge or International Baccalaureate, another option, said they would add AP back into the mix. Palm Beach County was among them, according to the Palm Beach Post.
The College Board said Diaz’s new letter offered “clear guidance” that “provides Florida educators, parents and students the certainty they need.”
Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association teachers union, said he was pleased to see the commissioner’s letter appeared to answer the questions that kept districts from continuing with the Advanced Placement course.
“It seems like (the state) is backtracking, and rightfully so,” Spar said. “They shouldn’t have put us in this position in the first place.”
He suggested that any effort by the state to sow confusion over the course and the law relating to instruction about gender identity seemed to be overwhelmed by public discontent over the situation that developed.
“I think (Diaz) started seeing all the pushback from parents and (chose) to be clear,” Spar said. “There was no way to get out of this.”
• • •
Sign up for the Gradebook newsletter!
Every Thursday, get the latest updates on what’s happening in Tampa Bay area schools from Times education reporter Jeffrey S. Solochek. Click here to sign up.