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Hundreds of Florida high schools have been left confused over whether to drop an elite US course in psychology after the state last week imposed, but then pulled back from imposing strict limits on the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation.
The lack of clarity last week pushed some schools, such as the Pinellas County Schools district, to shift to rival international course providers that avoid explicit reference to the topics in their curricular, just days before their new academic year begins.
The action follows a stand-off in the “culture wars” with Florida’s governor and Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, who introduced legislation designed to appeal to conservative voters that has been dubbed by critics as “Don’t Say Gay”.
The US College Board, which has run its popular Advanced Placement (AP) psychology course for 30 years, in May refused to comply with demands from Florida’s board of education to ensure that the sensitive topics would not be taught at all for children up to eight grade and only age or “developmentally appropriate” content for those up to 12th grade. It was concerned by the broad interpretation that could introduce.
The board of education initially briefed Florida school superintendents last Thursday that the refusal would require removal of the AP course, which would have affected about 30,000 students who receive college credits if they pass and whose teachers could otherwise have been penalised.
But on Friday Manny Diaz, the education commissioner, wrote to them saying he believed it “could be taught in its entirety”.
The College Board, previously stung by pressure in Florida to modify its planned African American Studies AP course, said of the state’s demand in June: “Please know that we will not modify our courses to accommodate restrictions on teaching essential, college-level topics. Doing so would break the fundamental promise of AP: colleges wouldn’t broadly accept that course for credit and that course wouldn’t prepare students for careers in the discipline.”
Arthur C. Evans, chief executive of the American Psychological Association, added: “Understanding human sexuality is fundamental to psychology, and an advanced placement course that excludes the decades of science studying sexual orientation and gender identity would deprive students of knowledge they will need to succeed in their studies, in high school and beyond.
“This law is yet another attempt to erase LGBTQ+ people from public view based on biased thinking and irrational fear.”
He urged other providers of advanced psychology courses taught in high schools — notably the International Baccalaureate and Cambridge’s AICE diploma — to similarly reject any efforts by Florida to influence their content.
Both organisations’ qualifications, like the AP, provide credits in high school that can be used to reduce the number of compulsory courses and tuition fees paid by students in a number of US colleges. However, unlike the AP, neither has explicit reference in their psychology course requirements to sexuality and gender.
Florida has come under criticism over its “Don’t Say Gay” bill in the past, notably from Disney, a major employer in the state. The company became embroiled in a feud with DeSantis, over the bill, which has landed in the courts.