American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression · American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom · Americans for Democratic Action, NYC Chapter · Association of American Publishers · Freedom to Read Foundation · National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) · National Coalition Against Censorship · National Council of Teachers of English · New York Civil Liberties Union · New York Performance Standards Consortium · Parents’ Coalition Against High Stakes Testing · Peacefire · PEN American Center · People For the American Way Foundation

Dear Commissioner Mills, Chancellor Bennett, Senator Kuhl, and Assemblyman Sanders: This is to follow up on our letter dated May 31, 2002, to Commissioner Mills, in which we expressed concern about the routine censorship of literary passages on New York State English Language Arts Regents exams.

We are gratified that Commissioner Mills has indicated an intent to abandon the use of expurgated literary passages on the English Regents exam, but this response is not wholly satisfactory. Given the pervasiveness of the practice and the conflicting statements from the Education Department, it is incumbent on state education officials to provide greater assurance through credible evidence that the State Education Department will no longer censor educational materials. Specifically,

  • We are concerned about whether similar forms of censorship in the name of "sensitivity" have infiltrated the curriculum or classroom activities, through the use of past tests as preparation tools or otherwise. For example, we are concerned with the instructions in the science section of the Sensitivity Review Guidelines to avoid references to human reproduction and evolution.

  • We believe it is essential that public hearings on these issues occur at the earliest possible time. If, as likely, hearings cannot be held before the forthcoming Regents exams, we trust that Commissioner Mills’ public commitment will be implemented fully. Since the exams will soon be made public, it will be apparent if the changes have not been made as promised, a situation that would further erode public confidence in the education department.
  • Finally, we seek the opportunity for representatives of some of the groups listed below to discuss these concerns with members of the Board of Regents at its next meeting on June 17 – 18, 2002.

We are confident you share our desire to be sensitive to students and to employ guidelines and practices that meet students’ educational needs. The way in which the Sensitivity Review Guidelines have been implemented in the past, unfortunately, does not do so. It is difficult to imagine how New York’s public school population is served by the effort to conceal or ignore ethnicity, gender, religion, race and other issues that mirror the actual experiences and perspectives of students. Schools cannot provide a genuine or meaningful education without addressing these issues. Moreover, it is insensitive not to address them.

We look forward to your prompt response. To do so, please contact either Joan Bertin at the National Coalition Against Censorship or Donna Lieberman at the New York Civil Liberties Union at the addresses and telephone numbers listed below.