Tuesday, May 10, 2016
The Office for Civil Rights has released its annual report to Congress. Like last year, it is very well written and informative--a break from past traditions. The biggest numbers OCR wanted to emphasize is that it processed over 10,000 complaints--a new record high--with only 540 staff members--a new record low. Doing more with less will certainly make many in Washington happy, but it may also raise questions as to whether OCR is doing the job as well as it could or should. The numbers won't really tell us that. On the other hand, it is possible that OCR has wrenched out this efficiency without sacrificing quality by being very clear about its own standards. If OCR is clear with itself and school districts as to exactly what a violation of Title IX is, for instance, then it might move more quickly to reach a resolution of complaints in that area. Toward that end, this current administration has done an excellent job of updating and issuing various different policy guidance documents. In just this past year, OCR released nine separate policy guidance documents. This is on top of several key ones from the prior year in areas like school discipline and resource equity. None of this, however, should undercut OCR's request for more resources. The demand for OCR's services is clearly high and the current stewards of those resources are allocating them well. Sounds like an agency to support, not undermine.
The report offers this executive summary:
In In FY 2015, the quality and pace of OCR’s enforcement work remained high. OCR received a record-high 10,392 complaints, initiated 19 compliance reviews and directed inquiries, and resolved 9,250 cases overall, including 1,044 resolutions that secured changes protective of students’ civil rights in schools around the nation. (See the Appendix for the total number of resolution agreements in FY 2015 by jurisdiction, state, and type of investigation.) Over several years, the number of complaints OCR received generally rose in several areas, including restraint or seclusion of students with disabilities; accessibility of curriculum through technology for students with disabilities; harassment based on race, color, or national origin; appropriate support for English Learner (EL) students; and sexual violence.
OCR developed and released nine policy guidance documents and hosted policy-related listening sessions with stakeholders on the following issue areas:
• resource equity and resource comparability and discrimination based on race and national origin;
• obligations of elementary and secondary schools to respond to the bullying of students with disabilities that denies a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and disability-based harassment of students with disabilities;
• schools’ obligations surrounding effective communication for students with disabilities;
• questions and answers regarding singlesex elementary and secondary classes and extracurricular activities;
• applicability of federal civil rights laws to juvenile justice residential facilities; • implementing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Ebola guidance for schools;
• schools’ obligations to ensure that EL students can participate meaningfully and equally in school and to communicate information to limited English proficient (LEP) parents in a language they can understand;
• addressing the risk of measles in schools and school obligations to students with disabilities medically unable to obtain vaccinations; and
• the importance and role of Title IX coordinators in fostering compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
OCR provided more than 250 technical assistance sessions to a wide range of stakeholders – including schools and districts, state education agencies, colleges and universities, parent groups, nonprofit organizations, advocacy organizations, and other federal agencies – and conducted other outreach to galvanize action on important civil rights topics. Notable outreach efforts include a convening at the White House on school discipline (with the Supportive School Discipline Initiative), a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and continued leadership in the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
OCR administered and collected data for the 2013-14 school year Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) from approximately 97,000 public schools serving about 49 million students nationwide. OCR improved the data collection process for thousands of school districts by instituting customized data submission checks that provided them with realtime technical assistance while significantly cutting back on the possibility of submission errors. OCR also launched a pilot program with eight states to pre-populate local CRDC data, thereby dramatically reducing the reporting burden on districts in those states.