My daughter took Algebra 1 in 8th grade. (This despite New York City remaining unsure whether that was a good or a bad thing.) She did not take the Algebra 1 Regents exam, however, due to the pandemic. Her school didn’t offer the exam, and no public school would allow her into the building to take it there (something that wasn’t a problem when my middle child did so three years earlier, not in the middle of a pandemic).
The public high school she’d be attending in Fall of 2021 assigned homework over the summer. There was one set of math problems for those who’d be heading into Algebra 1, and another for those headed for Geometry. My daughter contacted the school to ask which assignment she should do. For reference, she sent them her 8th grade report card, her final exam, and her teacher’s description of what the class covered and which textbook was used.
She was told a final determination for math class placement would be made in the fall. At a Welcome Evening, the school cautioned students to check their schedules very carefully on the first day to make sure they were correct.
My daughter arrived for her first day of 9th grade to learn she’d been placed in Algebra 1. She went to her counselor. Her counselor said she needed to get a letter from her middle school, on their letterhead, testifying to my daughter’s having taken and passed Algebra 1 with them.
This was on a Friday afternoon. The school had the letter they’d asked for on Monday morning. The counselor reached out to me. (Up to this point, I’d been having my daughter perform all the communication, as I’m big on personal responsibility.) The counselor told me she’d spoken to the principal and learned she’d given me the wrong information. They could not put my daughter in Geometry because she had not taken the Regents exam for Algebra and thus hadn’t received credit for it.
I followed up with the principal who told me that the school’s hands were tied by NY state. No Regents exam, no credit for the class. No credit for the class, no moving up to the next class. There was nothing they could do.
At this point, I was ready to give up. I may write about NYC schools with authority and panache, but deep down, I’m still an immigrant kid, terrified of rocking the boat and bringing the wrath of the state down upon me and my daughter. We’d just started at this new school. The last thing we wanted was to be branded as troublemakers. (“That’s what they’re counting on, you know,” my African-American husband, raised on the US civil rights movement, invoked. “They’re counting on you being scared. They’re counting on you thinking you can’t fight the system. They’re counting on you quitting.”)
I told my daughter, “Look at it this way, since you’ve already done the work before, this class will be super-easy and you’ll earn a really high grade with a minimum of effort.”
‘But I’m so boooooored,” my daughter looked at me with her big, brown eyes. “Please help me, Mom.”
Swallowing both my terror of administrative vengeance and my extreme reluctance to ask for favors, I reached out to a member of the Community Education Council for guidance.
They told me that because so many students hadn’t taken the Regents the previous year due to the pandemic, multiple exemptions had been issued.
By whom, I asked?
By the superintendent, they said.
I contacted the superintendents of both the district where my daughter had gone to middle school and where she now went to high school. The superintendent of the former told me that the matter was completely out of their jurisdiction. The superintendent of the latter told me that my daughter’s former school needed to be the ones to request the exemption.
I reached out to the school, and they were willing: Whom should they request this exemption from?
I asked my daughter’s school counselor.
They said they had no idea.
I asked my daughter’s principal.
They said they had no idea.
I asked the superintendent.
They said they had no idea. They knew the school had to be the one to ask, but they had no idea of whom.
For two weeks, I emailed over a dozen members of the NYC and NYS Departments of Education. Everyone at the local level told me the request needed to be filed at the state level. Everyone at the state level told me the request needed to be filed at the district level.
Filed with whom? Filed where? Filed how?
Nobody had any idea.
This is the part where I confess that, after a decade of writing about NYC schools, I know people.
Up to this point, I’d been operating as if I didn’t know people. I wanted to do this like the average citizen. I wanted to see what it was like for someone who was just trying to get something for their child — nothing unreasonable, just what their child was entitled to. Even as I understood that, as a mom who spoke English and had the time to devote to the project, I was already more privileged than most. I told myself that if I ultimately figured this quagmire out, I’d be able to disseminate the intricacies among those who didn’t share my advantages. It was the only thing that kept me plugging away. “Please help me, Mom,” and big, brown eyes only go so far. (Following one particularly frustrating afternoon, my daughter came home with a bag of Kit-Kats and iced tea “for the mixed drink you’re going to need after all this.”)
After two weeks of spinning in a perfect loop of nobody knowing anything while assuring me that it wasn’t their department and I should address the correct department even if they couldn’t tell which department that was, I approached some people I know.
“They say there’s a rule which prevents them from placing your daughter in Geometry without a Regents exam in Algebra 1?” I was told, “Make them show you which rule that is.”
It was the best piece of advice I received throughout the process.
The next time I reached out to the NY Education Department Office of Curriculum & Instruction and to the Board of Regents (cc’ing elected officials), I asked that exact question.
Within a couple of hours, both wrote back to inform me that:
Transfer credit is awarded for work done outside the registered New York State high school awarding the credit.
I. The principal shall evaluate the transcript or other records of a transfer student enrolling in a New York State high school. Based on the student’s transcript or other records, the principal shall award the appropriate units of transfer credit towards a high school diploma.
a. Registered high schools. The principal shall grant transfer credit for all credit awarded by any New York State registered public or nonpublic high schools.
b. Other educational/cultural institutions and independent study.
1. Except as provided in subclause (2) of this clause, the principal, after consultation with relevant faculty, may award transfer credit for work done at other educational and cultural institutions and for work done through independent study. The decision as to whether or not to award transfer credit for work done at educational institutions other than New York State registered high schools shall be based on whether the record indicates that the work is consistent with New York State commencement learning standards and is of comparable scope and quality to that which would have been done in the school awarding the credit.
I was about to forward the statute to my daughter’s school when the NY Office of Curriculum & Instruction emailed me to say: I shared the transfer credit regulation with (your principal) this morning. She’s going to discuss this option internally. Ultimately, it will be decided by the school, in alignment with their local policies, whether or not to award transfer credit for the coursework your daughter completed in grade 8.
The immigrant in me decided to lay low for a couple of days and see what happened. (No sense tempting the Evil Eye!)
And, then, out of the blue, my daughter texted from school to announce, “I’m in Geometry.”
She’d been called from class and handed her new schedule. Nobody gave me a head’s up, either before or after — or addressed it since. But she was in Geometry.
I’m still not sure exactly what happened. Everything had been handled via email with multiple parties cc’d. Until it wasn’t.
The process never became transparent, but I do hope that what I went through will be able to help others in a similar situation.
Start with “make them show you the rule….” and go from there…
More tales of those who fought the system and won, here, here, and here.