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The Department of Education, Formerly the Board of Education, Is Actually ‘NYC Public Schools’—For Now

The DOE's "brand refresh" comes as the Adams administration fights to maintain mayoral control over the school system.

DOE Chancellor David Banks speaks at an event next to a banner bearing the new NYC Public Schools name.

NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks announces the “New York City Reads” campaign at PS 156 Waverly, Brooklyn, on May 9, 2023. Note the new NYC Public Schools logo next to him. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

A little more than a year ago, New York City's Department of Education quietly became known as New York City Public Schools.

That’s the name that now tops the school system's official website. It's in email signatures and correspondence to students' homes. You can even see it used in ads on the subway. 

"I've gotten away from using the term 'the DOE' or the 'Department of Education,'" Schools Chancellor David Banks said during a December 2022 event. Banks said that he felt that the word department "connotes a bureaucracy—something cold, unfeeling. And I think there's a reason why so many of our families have felt a level of disconnect from us as an agency."

Banks added that "language does matter. So we are New York City Public Schools."

Since Banks's stray comments, there has been little public fanfare about the change. Parents of the approximately one million children who attend public schools might reasonably wonder why and how the DOE went the way of Shea Stadium or the Triborough Bridge. 

According to an emailed memo sent out to top education officials in March of 2023 and obtained by Hell Gate through a Freedom of Information request, the "brand refresh" is supposed to be an unhurried one, and "DOE" in fact, isn't dead.

The email, written by the DOE's then-chief of communications Michael Vaughn to school leaders, states that the change will be "gradual," and the official, legal name of the Department of Education would remain Department of Education. In other words, there's no need "to replace the 'Department of Education' name or logo on any of your existing products, equipment, or materials," Vaughn wrote.

And if a school is communicating an official policy? That's still DOE, according to the guidance listed at the end of the email, which gives this example: "The New York City Department of Education (DOE) is committed to protecting the right of every student to attend public school, regardless of immigration status, national origin, or religion."

DOE should also still be used when schools issue systemwide announcements, such as, "All New York City Department of Education schools are closed on Monday in observance of XYZ holiday," according to the guidance. 

So when should educators actually use "New York City Public Schools"? New materials created and purchased for schools and families are supposed to include the new name. And NYC Public Schools is to be used in "all general communications about our school system," according to the memo, which gives one example that would make any English teacher cringe: "The New York City Public Schools is committed [sic] to offering safe and welcoming schools for all students."

The second and final example: "If you have questions about how your New York City Public Schools student can access health services at school, please contact ...."

We also wondered what taxpayers shelled out for this gradual, unofficial shift—such costs being a perennial issue whenever things like bridges are renamed after political scions and forebears. Vaughn wrote in his 2023 email that work "is being completed in-house by the Marketing team," and added, "We are committed to making this as smooth and cost-effective as possible." 

A DOE records officer told Hell Gate they could not locate documents pertaining to cost estimates, "as this initiative was handled internally by the DOE." Nathaniel Styer, a DOE spokesman, reiterated that message and declined to say how many staffers worked on the project or how long it took. 

A slide from DOE deck giving school leaders guidance on how not to use the new logo.

In a DOE presentation from last January that we received as part of our records request, the "logo refresh" was framed as part of a larger trend towards simplification of City agency naming, in New York and beyond. The slide suggests that the shift to NYC Public Schools is consistent with changes to other "sister agencies" like the Administration for Children’s Services (NYC Children) and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC Health). 

Politics can prompt name changes, too. In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gained mayoral control of the City's school system, thereby eliminating the previous "Board of Education" that had ruled for decades.

Mayor Eric Adams is currently struggling to maintain that control, which is up for renewal by state legislators this year. While Governor Kathy Hochul supports renewing mayoral control of schools for another four years, the state legislature did not include mayoral control in their own preliminary budgets. Teachers, their union, and state lawmakers have all been sharply critical of any decision to renew mayoral control, citing the Adams administration's proposed budget cuts to the school system and their failure to implement a state-mandated initiative to reduce class sizes. Meltdowns like the remote-snow-day-that-wasn't don't help Banks's case either.

Asked if the name change was a bid to highlight city ownership of the school system during the mayoral control fight, Styer, the DOE spokesman, pointed to a passage from the name change guidance which said in part "we are putting our schools at the center of our work."

The physical buildings are somewhat impervious to all the rhetoric. Walk around the five boroughs and you'll still see some City buildings marked "Board of Education." Will they be ahead of the curve for the next DOE "brand refresh"?

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