NEW YORK—In a letter dated January 6, 2003 the National Coalition Against Censorship, civil liberties organizations, and associations representing booksellers, publishers, librarians, educators, writers, and parents called for public hearings to address the lack of accountability in New York's educational policy-making system and its effects on the quality of education.
The request, addressed to Richard Mills, Commissioner of the NY State Education Department, Robert M. Bennett, Chancellor of New York State Board of Regents, John R. Kuhl, Chair of the State Senate Education Committee and Steven Sanders, Chair of the State Assembly Education Committee, was provoked by the continued practice of bowdlerizing the literary selections used in the Language Arts Regents Exam in spite of public assurances to the contrary.
Last spring, the same group protested the routine censorship of literary passages included on the Language Arts Regents Exam, where material was deleted to eliminate references to race, religion, ethnicity, and other "sensitive" subjects. In response the Commissioner, Chancellor and other officials promised that this practice would not continue in future Regents Exams. Nevertheless, the June and August 2002 exams contained a large number of seriously altered passages.
Joan Bertin, executive director of NCAC, recalls Assemblyman Sanders' assurance that accountability had been changed to ensure that the former practice of sanitizing literary passages was terminated. Bertin questions the very procedure of accountability, "The Commissioner reports to the Board of Regents, and the Board reports—apparently—to no one. This archaic and undemocratic system has serious consequences for New York students." She added, "There has been a flagrant disregard of public outcry over the routine censorship of the Regents English Exam. Public officials promised that this educationally unsound practice would stop. Nevertheless, it has persisted. There does not appear to be adequate public oversight of the Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Education. To ensure the quality of our children's education, public hearings addressing the accountability of New York's Educational Policy-Making System are an urgent necessity."