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Freud in Florida

By Gabriella Quesada

Edited by Sahith Mocharla, Colin Crawford, and Vedanth Ramabhadran


School districts in Florida scrambled, students were in tumult, and teachers were left in the dark for lesson planning as House Bill 1069 (HB 1069) loomed over the existence of Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology. The College Board—a not-for-profit organization that created AP Psychology in addition to other courses designed to provide opportunities for college credit—published a statement declaring their adamant refusal to adapt their course to meet Florida’s new legislation concerning the instruction of sex and gender identity in the classroom. As a result, Florida schools prepared for this course’s absence. Yet, one day prior to many of Florida’s school districts’ start of their academic year, the state commissioner of education, Manny Diaz Jr., confirmed AP Psychology would be here to stay in the sunshine state.

The federal and state governments have had a history of delicate overlaps. However, the Tenth Amendment does indicate that any powers in the United States Constitution not granted to the federal government are reserved for the states. Education has been at the forefront of conversations regarding the delineation between federal guidelines and the state’s authority over educational requirements. This specific issue of federalism was sparked on February 28, 2023, when House Bill 1223 (HB 1233) was filed. This bill required specific policies relating to a person’s sex from kindergarten through twelfth grade and prohibited the discussion of pronouns, sexual orientation, and gender identity in public schools. With vague implications as to how extensive the restrictions should be, HB 1223 died in the Education and Employment Committee. However, it influenced its amended addition, HB 1069, which took effect on July 1, 2023. The passing of this latest bill was due in part to its greater specifications on its implementation, such as declaring those who would be responsible in the public school system for examining the course materials for inclusion of any topics under the umbrella of a person’s sex. 

DeSantis’ signature of HB 1069 led to a public feud between Florida and the College Board. In June 2023, the College Board received a letter from the Florida Department of Education concerning their need for the organization’s courses to be evaluated based on their compliance with recent legislation. AP Psychology proved to be an issue in light of these educational changes due to topic 6.7, Gender and Sexual Orientation, which challenges students to describe how these factors influence an individual’s adjustment to society and other areas of development. In the College Board’s letter of response on August 3rd of 2023, they addressed the fact that, in order to uphold their courses’ educational collegiate standards, they refuse to alter the AP Psychology curriculum. This refusal was justified by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) affirmation that if the course were to be reduced to meet Florida’s legislative criteria, it would no longer be eligible for college credit. Notably, this position was backed by Ted Mitchell, the president of the American Council on Education. In addition to this justification, the College Board specifically informed instructors in Florida to abstain from teaching the course, as it’s illegal under state laws, and doing so would risk their teaching certificates.

In this first month of August, the educational community sparked quite a few contentious conversations over both the state and the organization’s stances. Florida school districts reverted to offering the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) program and/or the International Baccalaureate program in psychology. While these programs hold educational merit, their hastened application in the midst of such worldwide controversy certainly derailed the instructors’ preparation. In addition, these programs are not easily added to school districts due to the specific materials necessary; therefore, the districts that employed these other programs, including Hillsborough County, Orange County, and Polk County, had to have already offered these programs in the past, with Pinellas being the only county that atypically ordered new AICE textbooks the same day it was announced the AP course could be disallowed. The rest of the districts without these materials were unable to provide college credit in psychology.

  Additionally, the complications did not end there. Just one day after the College Board’s statement, Diaz released that the course could still be taught in its entirety “in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate,” with no specificity or clarification regarding the meaning of “age and developmentally appropriate”. This lack of specificity left school districts to continue down their path of alternate courses in the absence of AP Psychology.  Miami-Dade County reverted back to offering the AP course, and Leon County notably kept the AP course even in the unknown period of whether it was in accordance with the state law or not. With some counties continuing to fear a professional standards review for offering the course, Diaz sent out an additional letter on August 9th of 2023, one day before many Florida school districts' first instructional day, clarifying “It is the Department of Education’s stance that the learning target [in AP Psychology], 6.6, ‘describe how sex and gender influence socialization and other aspects of development’ within topic 6.7, can be taught consistent with Florida law.” While this decision came as a relief for those worried about the dip in national education equality, the news was too late for some districts. Polk County confirmed no change was planned to revert back to the AP course. Schools in Palm Beach County experienced the opposite effect, with local campuses stating the reintroduction of the course one day after declaring its removal. This whirlwind of confusion highlights the shortcomings that vague wording can bring to effective action. 

In a similar way, the educational community became tense with the signing of the bill due to its implications for the federal civil rights law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This federal standard prohibits sex discrimination—including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity—in any educational program or activity receiving federal funding. Advocates for educational equality nationwide are closer to the idea of the recent Florida legislation being unconstitutional in accordance with Title IX, but the Tenth Amendment indicates that the federal government could be overstepping its boundaries. These legal contradictions are the reason behind the obscurity over who truly has the final say in education, at least in terms of equality and sexual identity. 

The battle over Sigmund Freud’s teachings across Florida is far from over. Ultimately, this educational controversy has shed light on an older debate concerning the level of federal regulation of state schools. While one can find state representatives having more immediate ties to their constituents enrolled in their respective state schools, the federal government has the power to create nationwide-level criteria for education. The balance of educational standards and consistency remains at stake. Yet, what remains unquestionable is that the wording of bills, being vague in nature, is bound to cause another commotion of miscommunication and irreversible decisions.

 

[1] AP psychology course and exam description, effective fall 2020 - AP central,

.pdf?course=ap-psychology. 

[2] The Florida Senate, House Bill 1069 (2023) - The Florida Senate (2021),

[3] The Florida Senate, House Bill 1557 (2022) - The Florida Senate (2021),

[4] Ileana Najarro, The florida ap psychology controversy, explained Education Week (2023),

ned/2023/08#:~:text=The%20Florida%20Department%20of%20Education,Yes. 

[5] Ileana Najarro, The florida ap psychology controversy, explained Education Week (2023), 

ned/2023/08#:~:text=The%20Florida%20Department%20of%20Education,Yes. 

[6] Km C364E-20230519124712 - allaccess.collegeboard.org

[7] The roles of federal and state governments in Education, FindLaw (2021), 

eral-and-state-governments-in-education.html. 

[8] Statement on AP psychology and Florida, Newsroom (2023), 

2023).



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