My U.S. History Regents exam was canceled after a mass shooting. Leaders must focus on removing the real threat.

Keeping gun violence off our tests is not the answer.

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others thinking and writing about public education.

As the New York State mandated U.S. History Regents exam approached, test preparation was in full swing at Stuyvesant High School, where I am a junior. This year would be the first time this exam was offered since the pandemic hit, and none of us knew what to expect. Stuyvesant held intensive test prep during class periods and offered after-school Regents review sessions on topics ranging from the U.S. Civil War to the suffragist and gay liberation movements. 

Ruby Friedman (Courtesy photo)

Then, on the morning of Tuesday, May 24, eight days before the Regents, a student leapt out of their seat: “GUYS, THE REGENTS WAS CANCELED!” Instantly, the class turned into a chorus of surprise and confusion. Was the test really canceled, and if so, why?

When we got confirmation that the U.S. History Regents exam would not move forward, I was elated. Having one less test I had to pass to graduate felt like a significant weight off of my shoulders. But as details emerged, my initial excitement turned into alarm. I assumed that the exam was canceled due to an uptick in COVID cases. I soon learned that it was canceled because state education department officials were worried this test had “the potential to compound student trauma caused by the recent violence in Buffalo.” 

Translation: It was canceled because of yet another failure to protect us from gun violence, this time in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket where 10 people were shot dead in a racist massacre. Just hours after the Regents announcement, a gunman killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers in the most deadly school shooting in nearly a decade.

These are hardly isolated incidents. With over 200 mass shootings in the United States in 2022 alone (and it’s only June), U.S. gun violence is something we cannot simply shy away from. While my classmates and I appreciate the state education department’s attempt to “support our students and their well-being” and shield us from further trauma, keeping the harsh reality of gun violence off of a standardized test is insufficient. Why not focus on removing the threat of gun violence, not the tests that mention the danger? 

What happened in Buffalo and Uvalde are traumatic. Persistent racism, inadequate gun laws, and the violence they cause are traumatic.

While the state has not commented on what content was considered newly problematic following the Buffalo shooting, it’s hard to imagine it was any more traumatic than other parts of American history covered on the test. American history is traumatic. What happened in Buffalo and Uvalde are traumatic. Persistent racism, inadequate gun laws, and the violence they cause are traumatic. They are not something that can be hidden from the American public or New York high school students.

We study history to use the past as a framework for our present. In school, we must cover difficult events — violent, traumatizing, and tragic events, such as slavery and the dropping of atomic bombs — to prevent history from repeating itself. Sweeping certain historical events under the rug prevents us from progressing past them. How ironic it is to cancel a U.S. History exam because our history with gun violence is too much for us to handle.

Ruby Friedman (they/them) is a Stuyvesant High School junior with a passion for organizing and advocacy. In their free time, they work as a tutor and make bulky eccentric jewelry. They can be often found in various NYC parks walking their dog.