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June 24, 2016 Practice Points

U.S. DOE Releases Report on OCR to Ensure Educational Equity for All Students

By Caroline Shurig

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released its 2015 fiscal year report: Delivering Justice. Submitted to the President and Secretary of Education, under Section 203(b)(1) of the Department of Education Organization Act, the report provides a summary of the types of cases and investigations as well as data collection efforts conducted in the last year. 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.

In 2015, OCR reviewed 10,392 complaints, initiated 19 compliance reviews, and resolved 9,250 cases overall, including 1,044 resolutions. OCR reports receiving a record-breaking number of complaints, while operating with the smallest sized staff in the history of OCR. Complaints increased in the following substantive areas: support for English learner (EL) students; harassment based on race, color, or national origin; restraint or seclusion of student with disabilities, accessibility of curriculum through technology for students with disabilities and sexual violence. Notably, complaints of sexual violence at the postsecondary level increased from 11 cases in FY 2009 to 164 in FY 2015.

OCR announced it will release the results of the 2013–14 Civil Rights Data Collection this year, with newly added information on areas such as the cost of preschool within school districts, educational access in youth correctional facilities, civil rights coordinators in school districts, access to distance education courses, credit recovery and dual enrollment programs, and chronic absenteeism. OCR utilized new data collection tools to provide summary reports to school districts immediately after data submissions. Previously, summary reports were issued eight months after submission. New customized data checks eliminated a manual edit checking process that otherwise would have taken OCR an additional two months after the data collection period ended.

Overall, the report shows an increasing use of the OCR complaint process to remedy discrimination in schools and universities across the United States as well as increasing levels of efficiency in terms of the agency's data collection efforts. OCR continues to focus its efforts on enforcing rights guaranteed by 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.

Caroline Shurig is a staff attorney in the Children and Families & Public Benefits Practice Group at LAF in Chicago, Illinois.

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