The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights today released its fiscal year 2015 annual report highlighting efforts during the last year to protect students’ civil rights and increase educational equity nationwide.
The report, Delivering Justice, cites examples of OCR’s enforcement activities in 2015, including processing a record 10,392 civil rights complaints, opening more than 3,000 investigations, and reaching more than 1,000 substantive resolutions with institutions that included remedies or changes designed to protect students’ civil rights.
“OCR’s work over the last year has been absolutely pivotal to advancing the Department’s goal to increase equity and opportunity for all students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John King. “Through our guidance, technical assistance, data collection, and investigatory work, the Department’s message to the public is clear: We are committed to working with and supporting schools to protect students’ civil rights — and we will take action to secure those rights when necessary.”
“We in OCR are very grateful for the many steps that school communities committed to take in resolving cases with us over the past year,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said. “These agreements make good on the civil rights promises Congress has made to the nation’s students, setting essential foundations for the educational opportunity that is their birthright.”
The report describes how OCR’s complaint volume has nearly doubled in the past decade – even as its staffing level has decreased by 15 percent since 2005, reaching an all-time low last year.
Notable cases are profiled in the report, including some related to equitable access to courses and educational opportunities, racial harassment, equal opportunity for English learners, bullying and harassment, accessible technology for students with disabilities, and sexual harassment and violence.
Also covered in the report – OCR’s work to provide technical assistance to educational institutions, engage with stakeholders, administer the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), and develop nine policy guidance documents on key civil rights topics.
The topics of guidance documents released by OCR in 2015 included:
- Providing equitable access to educational resources.
- Responding to bullying of students with disabilities.
- Ensuring effective communication with students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.
- Offering single-sex classes or activities consistent with Title IX requirements.
- Addressing the rights of English learners and limited English proficient parents.
- Designating and reviewing the important role of Title IX coordinators.
- Reiterating the applicability of civil rights laws in juvenile justice residential facilities. And,
- Clarifying how schools can implement federal health and disease prevention recommendations without discriminating against students.
Later this year, OCR plans to release the results of the 2013-14 CRDC, the universal collection of data from all public schools and districts in the nation. The 2013-14 CRDC will include new information on the following topics, among others:
- Availability of free or partial-payment preschool from school districts.
- Educational access in juvenile justice residential facilities.
- Civil rights coordinators in school districts.
- Access to distance education courses, credit recovery, and dual enrollment programs. And,
- Chronic student absenteeism.
The mission of the Office for Civil Rights is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. Among the federal civil rights laws OCR is responsible for enforcing are Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.