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School boards have broad discretion over curriculum, book selection
October 15, 2021
Parents and social media activists across New York State have been raising questions and expressing concerns about the content of curriculums used in school districts. In fact, some school districts have received Freedom of Information Law requests from parents looking to ensure their children are not subjected to what they consider to be divisive or politically biased forms of instruction. Issues involving curriculum were prominent in some school board elections in May.
In light of these events, school board members and administrators should have a clear understanding of what responsibilities state law and regulations impart on the school board, administrators, teachers and parents regarding the content of a district’s curriculum.
Curriculum must fulfill state learning standards
The Rules of the Board of Regents provide that school districts cannot receive any state aid unless they maintain an approved course of study that conforms with the New York State Education Law, Regulations of the Commissioner of Education and all other legal requirements for curriculum. For this reason, school curriculums must, at a minimum, address all state learning standards, which are in the Commissioner’s Regulations as the “knowledge, skills and understandings that individuals can and do habitually demonstrate over time as a consequence of instruction and experience.” State learning standards are organized into seven general areas: (1) English language arts; (2) math, science and technology; (3) social studies; (4) languages other than English; (5) the arts; (6) health, physical education and family consumer sciences; and (7) career development and occupational skills. The Commissioner’s Regulations recommend that school districts use a state syllabus when available. Syllabi set forth expected learning outcomes, including the goals, objectives, concepts, skills and understanding in a given subject.