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On Test, Students Not Allowed to Write About Landmark Case

Regents history exam did not allow essays on Brown v. Board of Education.
An East High School history teacher is concerned about a question on the United States History and Government Regents exam administered to students this month. Passing the exam is a requirement for graduation.

The exam included a thematic essay question asking students to write about two Supreme Court cases that have had a significant impact on American society. Students had to put the cases in historical context, explain the court's decision and discuss the impact of the court's decision.

Students were given a list of cases they could discuss. But they were told they could not write about Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation case.

"Our students are 65 percent African American in the Rochester City School District. Many of their family members have been directly affected by this knowledge," said teacher Dan Delehanty. "No teachers were told in advance this would be taken away. This is something that they know, but it's disqualified and it disqualifies the students and their cultural history."

A state education department official said via email, "They were not permitted to write about Brown vs. Board of Ed because that decision was used in an earlier essay question."

News 8 asked for further clarification.

The official responded, "Students are told that they may not write about Brown vs. Board of Education because the Document Based Question essay includes information that they could otherwise use to answer the Thematic Essay, including Dr. Martin Luther King's 'Letter from Birmingham Jail.'"

That question on the test asked students to discuss the impact of the Birmingham Jail letter. The exam included a small excerpt from the letter. But Delehanty points out, the excerptr said nothing about Brown v. Board and it was written after the Brown v. Board decision. 

Delehanty also points out that students were allowed to write about Plessy v. Ferguson, a Supreme Court case that allowed "separate but equal" racial segregation. That case is also part of the civil rights narrative of the country.

"The state is saying, 'We can't make this too easy for students,'" said Delehanty.

News 8 asked the state official for more clarification about Brown v. Board not being mentioned in the excerpt from "Letter From Birmingham Jail." We have not heard back.
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