WASHINGTON, D.C., May 4, 2016 – Today, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued its 2015 Annual Report, “Delivering Justice.” The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law applauds OCR’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that all students have equitable and excellent educational opportunities. As outlined in that report, over the past year OCR has processed over 10,000 complaints, opened more than 3,000 investigations, and secured more than 1,000 resolution agreements designed to address civil rights concerns at the K-12 level and within systems of higher education. It has achieved this with the smallest staff in OCR history.
“As a national civil rights organization committed to educational equity for all students, particularly students of color, we recognize OCR’s significant accomplishments over the past year,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Among OCR’s most notable achievements is issuance of federal guidance on the applicability of federal civil rights laws in juvenile justice facilities, resource equity, actions needed to end bullying of students with disabilities, and the obligation of school districts to lift barriers faced by English Language Learners. We urge OCR to use its extensive data on school districts around our country to expand its enforcement efforts to fully confront the challenges and racial disparities faced by African American, Latino and other minority students today.”
In addition, OCR administered and collected data for the 2013-14 school year Civil Rights Data Collection (CDRC) from 97,000 public schools serving approximately 49 million students nationwide, including students in juvenile justice facilities, charters schools and alternative school placements. This represents the most extensive data collection conducted by the Department to date, and will allow more transparency and accountability in public education. This data includes information about suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and school-based arrests, which will allow a more accurate assessment about racial disparities in school discipline.
“OCR’s efforts to monitor schools under comprehensive resolution agreements, the wide range of new policy guidance, and the improvements to data collection allows us to challenge discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, or disability,” stated Brenda Shum, director of the Educational Opportunities Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We believe the end result will be safer, more equitable schools for all students.”
Of concern, OCR’s report notes that it has seen a general increase in complaints associated with appropriate support for English Language Learner students; harassment based on race, color or national origin; restraint or seclusion of students with disabilities; and sexual violence. Given the increased volume and scope of concerns requiring investigation, it is essential that OCR is adequately staffed to ensure timely resolution of complaints and more opportunities to provide technical assistance to advocates, administrators and educators.