After racist Buffalo shooting, NY history Regents canceled due to harmful content

A mourner draws a heart with a piece of chalk during a vigil in Buffalo after a gunman killed 10 Black people in an attack motivated by racism. The New York education department canceled the history and government regents out of concerns some of the content would “compound student trauma” after the shooting.
A mourner draws a heart with a piece of chalk during a vigil in Buffalo after a gunman killed 10 Black people in an attack motivated by racism. (Usman Khan / AFP via Getty Images)

The New York Regents exam for U.S. history and government has been canceled due to content “that has the potential to compound student trauma caused by the recent violence in Buffalo,” state education department officials announced on Tuesday.

The exam, scheduled for June 1, had already been printed and packaged for shipment to schools, according to a letter state education Commissioner Betty Rosa sent to school leaders.

“It is not possible to produce a test with different content or to make modifications to the developed assessment in the short time period before the administration date,” she wrote. “To appropriately support our students and their well-being, the Department is canceling the administration of the Regents Examination in United States History and Government.”

The exam was created two years ago, and state officials were reviewing it in an effort to support students across the state after the May 14 Buffalo mass shooting, when a white supremacist targeting Black people opened fire in a supermarket, killing 10.

During that review, they unearthed the objectionable materials. State education department officials did not immediately answer questions about the concerning content.

“While developed by [New York State]-certified social studies teachers more than two years ago and field-tested to confirm that the exam’s content is educationally sound, the tragedy in Buffalo has created an unexpected and unintended context for the planned assessment,” Rosa wrote. 

History teacher Will Ehrenfeld wanted to know more about the specific content that alarmed state reviewers, given the weighty topics covered in his class and on the exams every year — including the Holocaust, slavery, and mass displacement.

“That’s the nature of the course. That’s the nature of our country’s history,” said Ehrenfeld, who teaches at Pathways in Technology in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

He said his students were elated to hear the test had been canceled, and that he supports doing away with the exams all together. But the last-minute move has fueled rumors that other Regents tests might also be canceled, and that state leaders are simply trying to avoid scrutiny for academic gaps during the pandemic by doing away with measures of student learning.

“It has been a stressful year for a lot of reasons and more uncertainty added to the mix doesn’t help,” Ehrenfeld said.

The Board of Regents is expected to vote on an exemption for students who had planned to take the test in June 2022, August 2022, and January 2023. 

The Regents exams are typically required to graduate, making New York one of few states that require exit exams to earn a diploma. But the coronavirus has prompted cancelations. Most recently, the January Regents were canceled because of a surge in coronavirus cases.

Alex Zimmerman contributed. 

Christina Veiga is a reporter covering New York City schools with a focus on school diversity and preschool. Contact Christina at cveiga@chalkbeat.org.

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