School districts confused over Department of Education letter

Reporter: Claire Galt Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

Southwest Florida school districts are stuck between conflicting messages from the Department of Education and the College Board.

Last week, the College Board said AP Psychology would not be allowed in Florida classrooms. Then, Department of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz sent a letter to superintendents saying the course could be taught in its entirety in a manner that is “age and developmentally appropriate.”

A district spokesperson sent WINK News a statement Monday morning saying, “Based on the guidance provided by the Florida Department of Education, we are adjusting student and teacher schedules and assigning them to different courses.”

Let’s rewind to last Thursday. That’s when the College Board said in a statement Florida “effectively banned” its AP Psychology class by making it illegal to teach content on gender identity and sexual orientation.

On Friday, the DOE sent that letter to all superintendents saying AP Psychology “can be taught in its entirety.”

And there’s the confusion, because Florida law makes it a crime to teach students about gender identity and sexual orientation.

There’s no provision for “age” and “developmentally appropriate.”

Because of this confusion, some school districts are taking no chances and passing on the AP Psychology classes.

Others, like Sarasota County, are keeping the course.

That’s where Shari Valencic has taught AP Psychology for the last nine years.

“That distrust that I feel as a veteran 34-year teacher from the state is quite disheartening,” Valencic said. “For this all of a sudden to be an issue with less than a week before students come back to school, I think shows an ignorance on the state’s part.”

While he did not say because of the confusion, a Collier County schools spokesperson told WINK News that the district will review syllabi from each AP Psychology teacher and assist by creating lessons that will be in compliance with Florida law.

“Teachers love AP Psychology, as do their students, and what has happened in the past four days in Florida is heartbreaking, and also very scary,” Valencic said.

If Collier County schools remove the gender identity and sexual orientation lessons, the College Board may not allow those students to qualify for AP credit.

Debbie Jordan, a member of the Lee County School Board, told WINK the district fears that teaching the class could be breaking the law. To be safe, the School District of Lee County is throwing out AP Psychology altogether.

“We’re under that fine line… is that violating the law, because you might speak about a certain subject in a certain chapter?” Jordan said.

Despite Diaz’s letter to superintendents, Jordan said the district isn’t willing to risk legal trouble.

“Speaking to students who had that class, and what they believe that they learned from that and what they gained from it… for them not to be able to, you know, to receive that, I think that’s… it’s sad,” Jordan said.

“I’m very concerned for the students who won’t get the opportunity to take a course that’s, you know, stood the course of time,” said Catherina Grus, chief education officer for the American Psychological Association.

The School District of Lee County will instead offer psychology classes provided by International Baccalaureate and Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education. But Grus said those courses don’t compare to AP Psychology.

“The major difference with the AP Psychology course is it has very clear learning outcomes for the learner,” Grus said. “Much more detailed than in the other two courses, with respect to specific content that students must master as part of the course.”

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