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Florida Curriculum Changes: Staff Opinion

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Potential to Disrupt

by Sven Stumbauer

As times change, so do the disciplines and concepts that are stressed by schools across the state of Florida. While 2022 and 2023 did in fact stay true to this notion, people not just across Florida, but the entirety of the United States, have been divided by recent legislation passed by Governor Ron DeSantis regarding education in K-12 and postsecondary schools.

Through legislation such as Senate Bill 266, House Bill 931, and Senate Bill 240, ideas like defunding diversity initiatives and expelling concepts like critical race theory from school curricula have been put into state law.

As with other schools across the state, Christopher Columbus High School, located in Westchester, could eventually be affected by the changes that Florida’s governor has made towards education, especially in regard to new classes offered within the school’s already expansive roster.

The most known instance of this is the statewide ban of AP African American Studies. While this new course from Collegeboard was tested across the country, including within Florida, Florida’s Department of Education refused to permit schools to offer the class, citing it as “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value”

This stems from the state of Florida’s desire to eliminate the concept of critical race theory, an interdisciplinary field that analyzes how laws, social movements, and media are influenced by preconceived notions of race and ethnicity, from its curriculum. Because of AP African American Studies’ heavy emphasis on critical race theory, this new course ended up getting a swift ban from the Department of Education.

The ban's impacts extend beyond public schools where the course is prohibited. It has also made private schools hesitant to offer the controversial course, impacting student opinions at these schools such as Christopher Columbus High School. One student in particular, a student who wished to remain anonymous from the class of 2024, expressed his stance on the ban of AP African American Studies in addition to the censorship of methods used to teach about race:

“I look at it mainly as educational censorship. I'm not behind the move to censor a lot of these different topics, especially to the degree that it’s happening. We have to look at this a little better because when we are looking back at the influence for it and who’s behind it, it’s not ethical and it's not right," he said.

His testimony provides a noteworthy perspective on this situation that the Department of Education and those across the state and nation have seemingly ignored: the effect such a ban has on the regular student.

Thousands of high school students throughout the state have been caught in the middle of a political tug-of-war between Florida and Collegeboard, which no matter how threatening one class may pose to state curricula, should not be the outcome for students in both Florida.

While the prohibition of AP African American Studies has been the most important change that recent legislation has caused, social studies classes that have been in Christopher Columbus for a long time appear to be unaffected by bans on new classes and censorship of concepts like critical race theory which was targeted by Florida’s Department of Education both within and outside state legislation.

In particular, AP United States History, a class offered to Columbus juniors, is seemingly unabashed by state legislation, despite the class’ content containing units regarding slavery, the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. However, there is a reason for this. As AP US History teacher and History department head Mr. Hermida explains:

“Although this legislation has created some hesitancy amongst teachers regarding how they look at their curriculum, the way I approach my classes has not been affected as my approach is one that leads students to develop their own historical skills and interpret the content the way that they see it in order to make my students historians in their own right," he said.

This way of teaching has allowed Hermida in addition to several other history teachers to remain largely unaffected by state standards within social studies classes, ultimately showing that oftentimes, the method of teaching is more important than the content, or lack thereof, that someone can teach.

Columbus has been both changed and unaffected by the recent shift in Florida’s education laws. While a potential eye-opening and intriguing course was taken from both Columbus’ students and those across Florida, at least in Columbus’ case, the ways of instruction used by social studies teachers across the school has managed to stay intact for students to enjoy both for now and in the years to come.

End of an Era?

by Alan Lirman

Changes are routine in Florida’s Department of Education as of late.

"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."

This statement was released on Aug. 3rd, 2023 on the official College Board website.

The cause for this statement: Don't Say Gay law. According to Matt Lavietes, a reporter for NBC, The Don't Say Gay Law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis prohibits “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through eighth 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."

However, a few days after the College Board released the statement, there seemed to be a reversal. According to Lavietes, "the state Education Department said the course can be taught in its "entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate. As of Tuesday officials and educators from six Florida school districts told NBC News that they would still not be offering the course this school year."

This battle between the College Board statement and Florida's Education Department comments seemed to cease after Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said "the department is not discouraging districts from teaching AP Psychology. In fact, the Department believes that 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,” Diaz wrote.

While some districts like Brevard Public Schools chose not to provide it because of confusion regarding the legality and credits the course entails, others like Miami-Dade County will continue providing the course.

Specifically, at Christopher Columbus High School, Ms. Rodriguez is at the helm of the course and is dismayed at the changes made.

"It makes me really sad to think that these kids aren't getting access to this course,” she said. “This course is so much more than just the tiny section on sexual orientation and gender identity and not allowing kids to learn about the subject because of something that comprises a couple of pages is saddening."

In addition, she commented on her thoughts on the importance of the section regarding sexual identity.

"Sexual orientation and gender identity are key components to understanding humans and human nature. In today's day and age, I make it a priority as an educator to teach my kids about all different types of people because humanity is not just black and white.”

The course content, Rodriguez believes, is so much more than just content to learn.

“I love that this course teaches our students not only about people but about themselves. A lot of my students leave at the end of the year with a better understanding of who they are as a person. I also love that this course is taught in such a personal manner. What I mean by that, is that the course requires a lot of real-life stories to be involved within lectures to really help the kids understand the material," Rodriguez said.

Ms. Rodriguez isn't the only teacher who supports the continuity of AP Psychology. Rachel Chapman has been teaching AP Psychology in Orange County public schools for 17 years and has also spoken out. According to Lavietes, "She said the course teaches students definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity, and that students have ‘organically’ brought up LGBTQ identities during class discussions on several occasions.”

From a student perspective, the course is also well-appreciated, especially by Columbus senior John-Paul Zurfluh.

“I enjoy the challenge of a new subject that touches on the complexities of human nature,” he said.

Zurfluh believes the changes in the course can have drastic impacts, too.

"I think the ban of AP Psychology in certain districts may rob students of the opportunity to see if this is a potential career path for them as well as help them understand ideas and concepts they may not have understood before," he said.

Senior Nicholas Diaz was content that Ms. Rodriguez emphasized nothing was changing in how she’s taught the course for years.

“I am happy with it because I want to learn about all facets of the human mind without censorship,” Diaz said.

The back-and-forth statements from the College Board and Florida's Education Department regarding the legality of AP Psychology after Florida passed the Don't Say Gay law clearly depicts how recent changes to state law are changing school curriculum. And, there are impacts beyond the curriculum.

Curriculum Spared

by Sebastian Arritola

The linchpin of any school revolves around an orderly curriculum: subjects that would engage the student body to the utmost extent. However, as of late, a myriad of school districts have been severely altered, which could be attributed to regulations posed by our modern-day political figures.

For reference, Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, is deemed a “culture warrior,” seeing as he assured parents of their “parental rights” in remaining aware of their children’s education - primarily the prohibition of identity politics in relation to standardized rigor. But have these concerning revisions made their way onto the grounds of Christopher Columbus High School, situated in Miami, Florida?

While the aforementioned “revisions,” per se, may not regard so much academics as they do more so a national phenomena, Christopher Columbus has incurred no such circumstance; despite this, some of its staff–and students alike–were keen to remark their perspectives pertaining to the matter.

Columbus Marist, Brother John, sophomore guidance counselor, abides by the sentiment that the, quote, “political climate” is the culprit by which countless schools and their respective districts seem to be adjusting to the times.

Furthermore, senior James Barbeite assumed an academic standpoint, claiming that literary departments tend to prioritize obligatory readings as opposed to overall reading comprehension, which, in turn, could optimize performance within, say, an SAT. Even so, these perceptions go far beyond mere systems, and may even be apparent within the courses themselves.

Over the course of the summer, the AP Psychology course had been rendered invalid for teaching via the Florida Department of Education in spite of being offered for the past thirty years. Their reasoning for doing so correlates directly with the notion of gender-oriented and sex “indoctrination” DeSantis aspires to eradicate. Ironically, this very course is still administered at Christopher Columbus to this day–same professor in toe.

Having gone through the course, James Barbeite emphasizes the fact that regardless of the fundamental material, the fundamentals are both “necessary” and “paramount” for the course; and in constraining them, students will harbor resentment towards the course and might even take into consideration resigning from it altogether.

In the grand scheme of it all, Christopher Columbus High School was, fortunately, spared of any exacerbation as a result of imposition of laws designed to revise core academic aspects, though the effects loom ever so to a marginal extent.

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