Florida education officials decided it’s possible to teach AP Psychology — in its entirety — without breaking a new Florida education law or “indoctrinating” high school students. And two Monroe County high schools — Key West and Coral Shores — are doing just that. 

Locally, 100 or so students are enrolled in the Advanced Placement, college-level, elective class that stirred controversy in Florida and garnered national headlines this summer.

In June, Florida’s commissioner of education, Manny Diaz, asked the nonprofit College Board, which administers Advanced Placement classes and their corresponding AP tests, to review its AP Psych curriculum for any sections that could violate Florida’s law restricting discussion of gender and sexual orientation. (That’s the law known by its critics as Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law.)

But the College Board group pushed back against Diaz and Florida, writing in a June letter, “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 success in the discipline.”

For 30 years, the college-level AP class, for which high school students can earn college credit by scoring a 3 or higher on the AP test, has included a section about gender and sexual orientation. 

The College Board also told Diaz and Florida that it would not recognize, or award credit for, any AP Psych class that eliminated the chapter on gender on sexual orientation, as Diaz initially suggested.

The section discusses social stereotypes associated with particular genders, Monroe County Schools Superintendent Theresa Axford told the Keys Weekly on Aug. 14. 

“Think about how when we were growing up and always learned that boys were better at math and girls were better at organization and penmanship,” she said.

Ultimately, given the threat of withholding college credit for the AP class for Florida students, Diaz and the Florida Department of Education capitulated. In an Aug. 4 letter to Florida’s school superintendents, Diaz wrote, “the department believes AP Psychology can be taught in its entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate, and the course remains listed in our course catalog. … I want to be clear, AP Psychology is and will remain in the course code directory making it available to Florida students.”

The state’s decision came too late for some Florida school districts that opted not to offer the course this year.

“District officials in Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties had decided to drop the courses, citing previous guidance from the state they said was ambiguous,” states an Aug. 10 article in the Orlando Sentinel. “Orange, Osceola and Lake are sticking with their decision, while Seminole hasn’t revealed how it will proceed.”

In Monroe County, Axford’s patience was rewarded.

“When this all started (back in June), I sort of sat back and started watching everything,” she said. “I didn’t want to overreact and start changing schedules or eliminating classes. I think the media often seizes on these things and they get blown out of hand. But we had 100 kids registered for these classes and two great teachers who really wanted to teach it.”

In the end, all 100 students between Key West and Coral Shores high schools are enrolled in AP Psych.

In an abundance of caution, Axford also had parents of each enrolled student sign a letter to permit their student to take the class.

“In the letter, I wrote, ‘We believe the class is intellectually stimulating and age and developmentally appropriate,’” Axford said.

All parents signed and the class has been taught since the first day of school. It is not offered at Marathon High School because no one signed up for it.

AP classes are offered based on interest and enrollment at each high school, Axford said, adding that teachers who teach AP classes receive a $50 incentive bonus for every student who passes the AP test in that class.

“I certainly didn’t want to hurt students by eliminating a class, and hurt teachers by eliminating that potential bonus if they couldn’t teach AP Psych,” Axford said.

In addition to psychology, Monroe County schools offer AP classes in history, English, chemistry, physics, computer science, biology, calculus, drawing, environmental science, macroeconomics, Spanish, French, U.S. government and music theory.

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.