Are Rights a Reality?

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In November, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released the 2019 Statutory Report.

Evaluating Federal Civil Rights Enforcement

https://www.usccr.gov/pubs/2019/11-21-Are-Rights-a-Reality.pdf

Chapter 3: U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights
See pages 159-194 in the Report.

Under Title VI, Title IX, Section 504, and the Age Discrimination Act, OCR has jurisdiction over institutions that receive Federal financial assistance from ED, including state education agencies, public elementary and secondary school systems, colleges and universities, vocational schools, proprietary schools, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, libraries, and museums.

Regarding enforcement, some of the enforcement tools ED OCR has specific legal authority to use are:

  • Complaint resolution
  • Agency-initiated charges
  • Proactive compliance evaluations
  • Guidance or other policy documents
  • Regulations
  • Technical assistance

This chapter discusses the concern over funding and staffing decreases while complaint numbers have increased.

“In its FY 2016 annual report, ED OCR stated that its general staffing level has historically decreased over time, despite the fact that its complaint volume has ‘exponentially increased.'”

At the Commission’s briefing, Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network Curt Decker testified regarding these reductions.

In Chapter 3, you will find discussion and charts regarding the ratio of Staffing Levels vs. Complaints received.

There could be concerns “that an increasing workload combined with decreasing resources ‘could have a negative effect on complaint resolution,’ because staff may not be able to maintain their levels of productivity.”

“According to the figures ED OCR reported to the Commission, in FY 2016, the largest number of complaints received (7,072) were Title IX complaints (regarding sex discrimination), which coincides with the information presented in the FY 2019 Budget Request that reported a single individual who filed 6,201 Title IX complaints against elementary and secondary schools and school districts.”

“In FY 2017, the largest number and percent of complaints received (5,569/43.4percent) were complaints alleging discrimination against individuals with disabilities.”

Chapter 3 discusses of the number and types of complaints received and the resolution statistics as to complaints closed or still pending.

During the time period studied in this report, ED OCR resolved thousands of cases of allegations of discrimination, including:

  • April 2016, Oklahoma City Public Schools agreed to reform their school discipline policies.
  • November 2016, resolution with East Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut re limited English proficient (LEP) parents and guardians.
  • March 2017, agreement with Wittenberg University re investigation and hearing process and policies for counseling.
  • November 2016, agreement with Yonkers Public Schools re discriminating against students with disabilities by failing to place them in a regular educational environment.
  • November 2017, resolution agreement with the Loleta Union Elementary School District CA, re harassment and discriminatory discipline of Native American students, including students with disabilities.
  • August 2018, resolution agreement with Florence City School District in Alabama to ensure that announcements sent by the school district were published in an accessible format.

The complete report includes details and additional complaint resolution information, as well as more information about ED OCR Complaint Resolution process.

The Report also discusses the “Dissemination of Policy Through Guidance, Regulations, Technical Assistance,” as well as rescinding previous guidance.

“The Commission has found that they [policy guidance] are an important tool for effective civil rights enforcement.”

Since 1968, ED has conducted the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) to collect information on civil rights issues in public schools, including enrollment information, educational programs, limited English proficiency, and disability.

Read the Report at https://www.usccr.gov/pubs/2019/11-21-Are-Rights-a-Reality.pdf

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