Lee County schools change curriculum amid shifting state standards

Reporter: Tiffany Rizzo Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

The first bell has rung for Lee County students, but none of the high schoolers can expect to take AP Psychology, and the curriculum for teaching Black history is still under dispute.

There has been much discussion and some confusion regarding the class, but Florida is allowing schools to offer the College Board’s AP Psychology course. Whether a given school district will offer it is up to the district’s leaders.

The Collier County School District is keeping AP Psychology, but Lee County is not. School districts across the state all faced the same question: If they teach the course, do they risk breaking Florida law?

State law now makes it a crime to teach students about gender identity and sexual orientation. The state recently clarified the curriculum for AP Psychology to superintendents, saying the framework meets state law.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the state sent out a letter to superintendents, writing in part: “It is the Department of Education’s stance that the learning target ‘describe how sex and gender influence socialization and other aspects of development’ can be taught consistent with Florida law.”      

When the College Board butted heads with the Florida Department of Education over course content, several school districts dropped the class altogether.

“We’re under that fine line… is that violating the law, because you might speak about a certain subject in a certain chapter?” said Debbie Jordan, a member of the Lee County School Board, on changing the curriculum. “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.”

Seven of the 11 districts with the largest enrollments in the class said they would switch to alternative courses. The other four are sticking to AP Psychology.

But Florida’s new standards for teaching African American history have been quite the controversy. Critics all point to one line that says “slaves developed skills which in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Dr. William B. Allen was part of the group that developed the new curriculum. He is a former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He explained why that line was included in the new standard.

“It is the case that Africans proved resourceful, resilient and adaptive and were able to develop skills and aptitudes, which served to their benefit, both while enslaved and after enslavement,” Allen said.

But others, like Democratic Florida Senator Geraldine Thompson, said there’s no way to spin the horrors of chattel slavery in any positive way.

“I think we ask that the commissioner resign and that the governor who appointed this commissioner take responsibility for this very flawed product that came out of the Department of Education—his Department of Education,” Thompson said.

Congressman Byron Donalds said he mostly favors the new standards, with the exception of that one line. The new standard is more than 200 pages long.

Copyright ©2023 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.