Stuyvesant Reflects on the Cancellation of the US History Regents

Students and teachers reflect on the NYSED’s recent decision to cancel the administration of the US History and Government Regents

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The New York State Department of Education (DOE) announced, in late May, the cancellation of the 2022 US History and Government Regents scheduled for June 1 in response to a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. The May 14 shooting, which was investigated as an act of racially motivated extremism, resulted in the deaths of 10 Black victims.

The DOE canceled the exam out of concern that content may be traumatic for students but has not disclosed the subject(s) of the potentially traumatic content. “Our experts determined that there is content on the new [US History Regents] that has the potential to compound student trauma caused by the violence in Buffalo, which created an unexpected and unintended context for the planned assessment,” the DOE said in a statement issued on Twitter. The DOE stated that with the exam already having been printed and packaged for shipment, it was not possible to modify the exam content. Students scheduled to take the exam in June of 2022, August of 2022, and January of 2023 are exempt from the exam.

The decision has faced some criticism within the Stuyvesant community. The ambiguity surrounding the exam content in question has aroused speculation in students and staff alike. Many are doubtful of the validity of the DOE’s reasoning, expressing that strong correlations between the May 14 shooting and exam content seem unlikely. “I don’t really see any correlation—or rather, there shouldn’t be any correlation between the exam content and [the] recent shooting,” junior Shaniyah Coull said.

Some have labeled the unforeseen cancellation of the exam as excessive and pointed to alternatives, such as providing students with an option to leave the exam if exam content caused discomfort. “One of my teachers [suggested that] students [who] didn’t feel comfortable with the exam could [have] [gotten] up and leave, and maybe [the state] could give them a waiver. I thought that was a really good suggestion because canceling an exam for an entire grade seems so [drastic]. It was a single question on the test,” junior Melanie Grullon said.

Grullon also reasoned that the DOE’s grounds for canceling the exam seemed arbitrary because there is little precedent for doing so based on concerns of student trauma. “Honestly, I don’t feel like the decision was justified,” Grullon said. “There are a lot of questions that could be triggering to people—many people—so the decision to [cancel] an exam that the entire state is taking based on one event seemed a little wrong, because if you do that for one exam, you [could] do [the same] for all the others.”

However, a notable portion of the student body has expressed indifference at the cancellation of the exam. “It doesn’t really matter because the test is relatively easy,” junior Nashif Rahman said. “I wouldn’t really mind if the tests weren’t canceled [either].”

The discourse surrounding the cancellation of the US History Regents is certainly topical amid the current political climate. In the wake of waves of high-profile mass shootings—and, subsequently, heightened media coverage—over 40 percent of respondents deemed gun violence as a top American issue in a recent survey. “I grew up in a gun culture in Maine. A lot of my classmates hunted. This was sort of a rite of passage for them, but there was a lot of attention paid to gun safety, and [there was a] healthy respect for the lethality of firearms. You had to demonstrate a degree of maturity,” social studies teacher David Hanna said in an e-mail interview. “Now it appears that anyone can obtain weapons that, in my opinion, only the military, the National Guard, and SWAT should have access to. These types of weapons make mass shootings—whether racially motivated as in Buffalo or by some other undefined reason—more possible because of the number of rounds a gunman can fire, quickly. I hope Congress will act to ban public access to these weapons.”

Gun-related deaths in the US have been on the rise in recent years; excluding suicides, the annual figure rose to nearly 21,000 in 2021. The number of mass shootings has also been at an uptick in recent years, standing at 692 mass shootings in 2021. “I felt […] terrible about what happened in Buffalo, but unfortunately, it didn’t come as a total surprise either. It seemed eerily similar to the Emanuel AME Church shooting in South Carolina in 2015, and the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018. It’s a sickness in our society,” Hanna said.

While students acknowledge the traumatic nature of hearing about, or even witnessing, events as sinister as the Buffalo shooting, many also express feelings of desensitization due to the sheer frequency of gun-violence-related tragedies in the US. “[Hearing about the shooting] was like any other day. I wasn’t surprised,” Coull said. “I guess I’m desensitized because it happens so often.”

Critics express that potentially traumatic historical content is always present on the test. Ultimately, many find the implications of the DOE’s decision to be questionable. “If answering a question on an exam could be too traumatizing, where do the massacre of the indigenous American population, slavery, lynchings, and the slaughter of the Civil War fit in to [the DOE’s] protected vision of understanding the past?” history teacher Lisa Greenwald said.