Lakeland High School’s Ken Heidegger is in his fourth year of teaching, including AP Psychology, at his alma mater.
“I didn’t expect to teach the class, but I loved taking it as a student in 2010-2011 and quickly fell in love with the subject,” Heidegger said in an email to LkldNow. “According to my students, that was very apparent in the classroom.”
But as Heidegger and his colleagues were getting their classrooms and lesson plans ready last week, word came down that Polk County Public Schools will not be offering AP Psychology to the 470 students who signed up for the course, saying the Florida Department of Education’s guidelines were too vague on the topic.
Instead, school district Superintendent Frederick Heid said Tuesday that students will be able to take International Baccalaurate Psychology, Cambridge Assessment International Education Psychology, or a similar dual enrollment course. IB and Cambridge, which is associated with the prestigious University of Cambridge, programs are run by international organizations and operate under different guidelines. Dual enrollment courses are college classes.
“The state said it can be taught IF it is age and developmentally appropriate,” PCPS Superintendent Frederick Heid said Tuesday. “However, they were unable to define that and when asked if the College Board would approve the course, FDOE shared that they have had no contact with them. Given these facts, we will stick to our initial decision.”
LkldNow sent an email to multiple people in the DOE’s communications office, asking them to define “age and developmentally appropriate,” but did not get a response.
Heid sent a letter home to parents Friday, saying the district will not be able to offer the course.
“Please know that I share your frustration with the recent turn of events,” Heid wrote. “I had hoped the department and College Board would be able to find a resolution that benefits our students. Unfortunately, the parties are at an impasse, and I don’t expect meaningful resolution in the near future.”
Heid’s decision comes following a national verbal tussle between Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and the College Board, which oversees all Advance Placement classes in the country.
The College Board issued a statement last Thursday, saying: “We are sad to have learned that today the Florida Department of Education has effectively banned AP Psychology in the state by instructing Florida superintendents that teaching foundational content on sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under state law.”
The state initially said districts are free to teach AP Psychology only if it excludes any mention of these essential topics. A day later, state officials appeared to have reconsidered and opened the door for the course to be taught in full, but many questions remain.
“I was personally heartbroken when the news broke about AP Psychology last Thursday afternoon,” Heidegger said. “However, our district was very quick to respond, calling a meeting with Polk AP Psychology teachers Friday morning to share with us what they knew and to include us in the discussion about next steps. I found that to be very encouraging, and following the meeting, I felt lighter and optimistic that something would work out.”
“While AP Psych was not technically ‘banned,’ I fully respect and appreciate the district’s decision to safeguard its teachers, students and schools from potential controversy if we had attempted to continue with AP Psych,” said Heidegger. “It will certainly require some adjustments from a teaching perspective, and I’ll miss AP Psych dearly, but I do see great potential with the Cambridge course design to further engage and draw in students.”
Heidegger said Cambridge (AICE) Psychology has been adopted at LHS.
Parental rights vs. student rights
The controversy comes after this year’s expansion of the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, which bans discussions about sex, gender identity in all Kindergarten through 12th grade classes “unless such instruction is either expressly required by academic standards as adopted in Rule 6A-1.09401, F.A.C., or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend.”
“Florida is proud to lead the way in standing up for our children,” Governor Ron DeSantis said in a press release in May when he signed the bill’s expansion, dubbed by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay Law.” “As the world goes mad, Florida represents a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy.”
The College Board, which oversees all Advanced Placement classes nationwide, as well as SAT and ACT exams, shared in June that it can’t modify AP Psychology in response to regulations “that would censor college-level standards for credit, placement, and career readiness. Our policy remains unchanged. Any course that censors required course content cannot be labeled ‘AP’ or ‘Advanced Placement,’ and the ‘AP Psychology’ designation cannot be utilized on student transcripts.”
Despite the state’s seeming about-face on Friday afternoon, district officials said Tuesday that there is no change to their decision.
District spokesman Kyle Kennedy said teachers will go through additional training if they have not taught the course before.
“We will also provide additional meeting time for those teachers to collaborate,” he said.
No AP Capstone diploma credit for IB or Cambridge psychology
But, Kennedy added, for students looking to do an AP Capstone project, an IB or Cambridge course won’t count toward that.
AP Capstone is a two-year program. In addition to their AP classes, students must take AP Seminar and AP Research. The College Board website states that “other AP courses teach you, in depth, about a specific subject, like biology or U.S. history. AP Seminar and AP Research are different. They focus on helping you develop academic skills you can use in any discipline.” These skills include critical thinking, collaboration, conducting research and public speaking.
AP Seminar involves investigating topics in a variety of subject areas, writing research-based essays, and design and give individual and team presentations.
In AP Research, which is taken after AP Seminar, students design, plan, and conduct a yearlong research-based investigation on a topic of their choice.
AP Capstone awards can be earned, as well as a Capstone diploma.
“IB or Cambridge courses do not qualify for kids doing an AP Capstone,” Kennedy said.
It is unclear if students will earn college credit, as they can with AP classes.
Other districts also bow out of AP Psych
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Pinellas and Hillsborough County Schools are proceeding with Cambridge’s classes, which they call similar to AP courses. But, according to The Times, Cambridge officials told DOE leaders that “its course would follow the law restricting instruction about gender and sexual orientation — raising questions about whether the course and exam should be allowed for college credit.”
Student might be able to make arrangements to take AP Psychology through private schools, which do not have to adhere to the state rules on gender and sexual identity.
School districts throughout Central Florida are also scrambling to come up with a plan. According to WESH News:
- Orange County Public Schools will not offer AP Psychology.
- Brevard County Public Schools will not offer AP Psychology.
- Lake County Public Schools will offer IB and Cambridge and say say both will give students the same college credit they would have earned through AP Psychology.
- Marion County Public Schools won’t offer AP Psychology, but instead will conduct Cambridge psychology classes.
- Seminole County Public Schools will not offer AP Psychology, but will instead allow students to study psychology through the AP Seminar course.
Heidegger, who is also the Honors U.S. Government teacher and boy’s golf coach, said on Wednesday that he is transitioning his teaching to the Cambridge model.
“With only two days until classes begin, I am now focused on adapting my content as best as possible to ensure students will have an engaging and fun learning experience while setting them up to succeed on the exam and earn college credit,” Heidegger said.
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