Florida "effectively banned" Advanced Placement Psychology classes in the state due to the course's content on sexual orientation and gender identity, the College Board said Thursday.
The state's Department of Education informed the College Board that “teaching foundational content on sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under state law," the higher education nonprofit said in a statement. Florida's Parental Rights in Education Act, or what critics have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" law, restricts the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in the state's classrooms.
“The state’s ban of this content removes choice from parents and students,” the College Board said in a statement. “Coming just days from the start of school, it derails the college readiness and affordability plans of tens of thousands of Florida students currently registered for AP Psychology, one of the most popular AP classes in the state.“
The state's move to restrict the AP Psychology course comes several months after its decision to block AP African American Studies courses was widely condemned by academics and civil rights activists.
The College Board added that Florida will allow superintendents to offer the college-level psychology class for high schoolers if they exclude LGBTQ topics.
However, the College Board argued that excluding the lessons — which it describes as teachings on "how sex and gender influence socialization and other aspects of development" — "would censor college-level standards."
It added that lessons regarding sexual orientation and gender identity have been included in AP Psychology since the course was created 30 years ago.
The group said that more than 28,000 Florida students took AP Psychology in the prior academic year.
When asked to confirm that the department effectively banned the course, Cassie Palelis, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education, or FDOE, said the nonprofit was “attempting to force school districts to prevent students from taking the AP Psychology.”
“The Department didn’t ‘ban’ the course. The course remains listed in Florida’s Course Code Directory for the 2023-24 school year. We encourage the College Board to stop playing games with Florida students and continue to offer the course and allow teachers to operate accordingly,” Palelis said in an email. “The other advanced course providers (including the International Baccalaureate program) had no issue providing the college credit psychology course.”
When asked by a reporter on the presidential campaign trail on Friday if AP Psychology was banned in the state over the inclusion of sexuality and gender topics, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said “that’s wrong.”
“That’s part of our course catalogue,” he said. “I bet it’ll end up being offered.”
He appeared to imply that similar college-level classes could be offered through nonprofit organizations other than the College Board, including International Baccalaureate.
In a statement shared with NBC News on Friday, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents said it is working "diligently with FDOE and school superintendents who want to continue to offer AP Psychology."
"Superintendents are openly communicating with parents their district’s plans for this course or an alternative college level course as we prepare for the start of the school year," the statement, sent by association spokesperson Diana Shelton Oropallo, said. "AP Psychology continues to be listed in Florida’s Course Code Directory and we hope that College Board will keep the best interests of students at the forefront and award college credit to all Florida students who successfully complete the AP Psychology exam."
The governor's office did not immediately return a request for comment.
The American Psychological Association, the nation's largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists, argued against stripping AP Psychology of LGBTQ topics earlier this year, after the state requested that the College Board review sexuality and gender identity topics in all advanced placement courses.
“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,” the association's CEO, Arthur C. Evans Jr., said in a statement in June. “We applaud the College Board for standing up to the state of Florida and its unconscionable demand to censor an educational curriculum and test that were designed by college faculty and experienced AP teachers who ensure that the course and exam reflect the state of the science and college-level expectations.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, said the decision to restrict AP Psychology in the state is “part of the DeSantis playbook of eroding rights” and “censoring those he disagrees with.”
LGBTQ advocates also condemned the state's AP Psychology restriction on Thursday.
“Psychology is centered around people – all people," Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ advocacy group, said in a statement. "Erasing us from the curriculum ignores our existence, sets back Florida students who want to pursue psychology in higher education and disrupts pathways for future mental health professionals to provide comprehensive, culturally competent mental healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community."
DeSantis, a Republican who is running for president, signed the so-called Don’t Say Gay law last year.
The law was widely condemned by LGBTQ activists and prompted an ongoing feud between the governor and The Walt Disney Co., Florida's largest employer.
The measure initially prohibited “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards” in public and charter schools.
But earlier this year, DeSantis doubled down, signing a measure into law expanding the restrictions to explicitly include students through the eighth grade. The newer version of the law also restricts reproductive health education in sixth through 12th grade.
In addition to enacting the "Don't Say Gay" law, the governor recently signed into law a measure that bars transgender people from using public restrooms that align with their gender identities and another that restricts drag performances in front of minors. A judge subsequently blocked the drag law.
On the final day of LGBTQ Pride Month in June, DeSantis’ presidential campaign released a video portraying the governor as a champion of anti-gay and anti-trans policies.
The video garnered widespread attention for its pairing of DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ policy accomplishments alongside images of shirtless bodybuilders, in what appeared to be an attempt to portray the Florida governor as strong. It was condemned by both Republicans and Democrats, with some calling it "homophobic."