State tells students: Don't write about Brown v. Board of Ed


If you were taking the United States History and Government high school Regents exam on Tuesday, June 17, you would have found that Part I of the exam consisted of 50 multiple choice questions. The questions covered everything from the events that led up to the Civil War to the exploration routes of Lewis and Clark and Zebulon Pike. 

But Part II was a little trickier because it required knowledge of US Supreme Court decisions. Test-takers had to write an essay concerning two decisions and the impact they have had on American society. You would have had to describe the historical circumstances surrounding each case, explain the Court’s decision, and describe its influence.

The exam even gave some of the court’s most monumental decisions as examples of where you might begin, such as Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 or Roe v. Wade in 1973.

The exam instructions would also have told you that you were strictly forbidden from writing about Brown v. Board of Education Topeka.

The restriction has some teachers, students, and parents scratching their heads. If teachers are supposed to create culturally relevant lessons, as one city school district teacher wrote us, Brown is one of the seminal court decisions of the 20th century.

The same teacher asks: considering that nearly 70 percent of the district’s students are black what could be more relevant? And Rochester has one of the most segregated public school systems in the country — making the decision even more important.

But a spokesperson for the New York State Education Department said that the case would be too easy of a topic for most students, and that’s why it wasn’t allowed as an essay choice. Also, information regarding Brown v. Board of Education Topeka appeared in a question elsewhere in the exam, the spokesperson said, and would've give some students an unfair advantage.  

Apparently, the SED received inquiries about the exam rule, enough to issue a written statement. A portion of that statement is below:

"In recognition of the 60th anniversary of the decision, Commissioner King gave a major speech earlier this year (to which the members of the Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus were invited)."