Office for Civil Rights
2000 Annual Report to Congress
How OCR Does Its Work
Most of OCR's activities are conducted by its 12 enforcement offices throughout the country. These enforcement offices are organized into four divisions (Eastern, Western, Midwestern and Southern) that work to prevent, identify, end, and remedy discrimination against America's students. The headquarters office, located in Washington, D.C., provides overall leadership, policy development and coordination.
OCR Resolves Complaints
"Please find enclosed a copy of [son's] grade card for the first semester. I just want to share this with you as a storybook ending ?Without your help in what I call the fight of our life, [son] and I would not be where we are today."
January 15, 2000, letter from the parent
One important way OCR carries out its responsibilities is by resolving complaints. Persons who believe there has been a violation of the civil rights laws enforced by OCR may file complaints with the appropriate enforcement office (see Appendix A). The person or organization filing the complaint may be a victim of the alleged discrimination or may file on behalf of another person or group. The complaint process provides a forum for resolution of alleged discrimination against individuals protected by the civil rights laws.
OCR's primary objective is to resolve the complainant's allegations of discrimination promptly, fairly and appropriately. In FY 2000, OCR used a variety of techniques to resolve 6,364 complaints, the highest number ever in a single year. These techniques range from facilitating voluntary resolutions between parties to negotiating agreements with recipients for voluntary compliance. If these methods fail, OCR issues violation letters and enters into negotiations to correct those violations. If negotiations fail, as a last resort OCR seeks enforcement through the administrative hearing process or refers cases to the Department of Justice. This flexible approach allows OCR to:
OCR Conducts Compliance Reviews and Other Proactive Initiatives
In addition to resolving complaints that arrive from the public, OCR initiates "compliance reviews" and other proactive initiatives to focus on specific compliance problems that are particularly acute or national in scope.
Targeted compliance reviews and proactive initiatives maximize the impact of OCR's resources and round out the enforcement program. Experience indicates that these strategic activities benefit large numbers of students through policy or program changes by recipients that are designed to secure equal educational opportunity.
OCR initiated 47 compliance reviews in FY 2000 and brought 71 reviews to successful resolution, some of which had been started in previous years. Compliance reviews are selected based on various sources of information, including survey data as well as information provided by parents, education groups, media, community organizations and the public. In FY 2000, OCR conducted compliance reviews on the following issues:
OCR Provides Technical Assistance
Putting an end to discrimination includes preventing it before it starts. It is for this reason that OCR provides information and other support services--known as technical assistance--to schools and colleges, as well as to community, student and parent groups. The aid that OCR gives to educational institutions helps them comply with federal civil rights requirements, while the assistance given to students and others informs them of their rights under those civil rights laws.
"[OCR's] workshop received outstanding evaluations. I also received several phone calls from conference participants praising the value of information [OCR staff] conveyed."
May 25, 2000, letter from a
OCR offices provide technical assistance through a variety of methods that include on-site consultations, conferences, training, community meetings, and published materials.
OCR coordinated and/or participated in a number of conferences during FY 2000. In collaboration with the Department of Education's Mid-Atlantic and Southeast Equity Assistance Centers and the Intercultural Development Research Association's South Central Collaborative for Equity, OCR co-sponsored the conference "Equal Access to a Quality Education: The Civil Right of the 21st Century." The approximately 500 conference participants included representatives of state and local agencies, advocacy groups, beneficiary organizations and professional associations. Participants explored civil rights challenges facing schools in the 21st century.
"The 35 current and prospective college students in attendance are all going to be able to make use of the information you presented ? Since education is the key to their future success, understanding the college environment and experience is essential to students who are blind or visually impaired."
August 15, 2000, letter from a State
The conference also provided a forum for information sharing about emerging education and civil rights issues (some of which are unique to the 17 southern and border states) and options for addressing those issues. Experts from a number of fields presented papers and conducted seminars on a variety of topics, including high-stakes testing; harassment, violence and hate crimes; education programs and instruction strategies (e.g., special education, ability grouping and tracking, and alternative language programs for English language learners); access to challenging curricula; courses, qualified teachers and technology; resource comparability; and parental and community involvement.
OCR also worked in cooperation with the National Academy of Sciences and with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, and other Department of Education offices to present the "Millennium Conference: Achieving High Standards for All" at the National Science Foundation. The conference focused on issues regarding the achievement of minority and disadvantaged students, including learning research, teaching methods, reform efforts in high-poverty urban schools and effective technical assistance. The conference, attended by more than 325 state and local educators and policymakers from around the country, provided information on strategies that work to raise achievement for all students, while closing achievement gaps between minority and non-minority students.
OCR also participated in a conference sponsored by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, which was attended by more than 1,000 athletic directors and administrators. During the course of the conference, OCR staff conducted roundtable discussions that focused on standards for providing nondiscriminatory participation opportunities to male and female students and on the award of athletic scholarships. In addition to providing specific information about Title IX compliance, the conference provided a forum for OCR to meet informally with athletic officials to discuss areas of mutual concern.
During FY 2000, OCR conducted an assessment of its ability to communicate with limited English proficient (LEP) persons. OCR met with a number of groups serving LEP populations and explored ways to provide information in a variety of formats, including written translations, oral translations and outreach to LEP communities. A result of this assessment was the development of a translated fact sheet on the basic rights of students and ways that parents and schools can work together. The pamphlet, entitled "Families and Schools as Partners," also is available in Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Navajo.
"I was extremely impressed by your willingness to pursue this matter with such short notice?Parents like me are also very lucky to have such a knowledgeable individual available to address our concerns regarding the violation of our children's civil rights."
June 2, 2000, e-mail message from a parent acknowledging OCR's technical assistance
In addition to these proactive initiatives, OCR responds to inquiries and requests from the public. Calls and letters requesting assistance come from other federal agencies, state agencies, local school districts, community groups, parents and students. OCR customer service teams often serve as the first contact point for students, parents, educators and community members who need a question answered, who want a copy of one of the OCR publications, or who have a Freedom of Information Act request.
OCR Provides Policy Guidance
"[OCR investigator and attorney] were like angels from heaven?I have been treated consistently with the utmost respect, professionalism and kindness. They have always explained their overall plan and kept me alerted at each step. Their help restored my faith in mankind and I feel safer knowing someone is 'out there' working to protect me."
January 12, 2000, letter from complainant after reaching a settlement in an employment termination case
OCR must communicate clearly how the civil rights laws apply in particular situations so that people protected by the laws understand their rights and education institutions understand their obligations and are able to avoid legal problems. Also, compliance standards allow OCR staff to make determinations that are legally supportable and based on a fair and thorough analysis of information. In FY 2000, OCR issued policy, investigative guidance and resource materials on a number of high-priority issues.
"I would like to tell you how much I enjoyed your recent talk ? It brought a lot of clarity to the very tough issues facing any large public organization providing services to a variety of customers."
May 2, 2000, letter from a State
OCR undertook extensive work in developing a testing resource guide. The purpose of the guide is to provide a practical resource for educators and policymakers to ensure that tests used for high-stakes decisions are developed and implemented in ways that are educationally sound and legally appropriate, and thereby promote the complementary goals of excellence and equity in education. The guide is being developed in close consultation with the education and testing community. Plans were also made to include several rounds of comments and meetings with educators, parents, teachers, business leaders, policymakers, test publishers, civil rights groups, researchers and individual Members of Congress.
English Language Learners
OCR issued a guide for school districts to use in developing and evaluating their programs for English language learners. The materials are intended as a resource for school district use, rather than as a statement of legal requirements.
OCR's guidance entitled "Applying Federal Civil Rights Laws to Public Charter Schools: Questions and Answers" represented part of a joint effort by the Department of Education and Department of Justice to support innovation and choice within public school systems. It provides information on how public charter schools may be developed and operated consistent with the civil rights laws. The document addresses recruitment, admissions and lotteries, issues related to desegregation, and services for students who are limited English proficient and students who have disabilities.
OCR and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education marked the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act by jointly issuing a Dear Colleague letter on disability harassment. The letter reminds schools, colleges and universities that prompt action must be taken if harassment of a student based on disability interferes with the student's ability to participate in or benefit from the school's program. The letter describes what actions may constitute disability harassment under existing law and outlines measures that schools can take to prevent disability harassment or to respond effectively if it occurs.
Intradistrict Resource Comparability
OCR worked on preparing guidance to help staff ensure that all students in a school district have equal access to educational resources as required by Title VI. The guidance responds to the increase in lawsuits and OCR complaints alleging inequities in the quality and quantity of educational opportunities based on race, ethnicity and economic status. In evaluating resource comparability, OCR will consider four major components--staff (teachers, administrators and support staff); programs (academic programs and extracurricular activities); instructional support (textbooks, supplies, technology and libraries); and facilities (physical plant and school safety).
Investigative guidance was issued to staff on how to apply recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions in determining whether an individual has a disability within the education context. In the decisions (Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc., Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc., and Albertsons, Inc. v. Kirkingburg), the Supreme Court held that the determination of whether an individual has a disability must take into account the effects of any "mitigating measures" (such as eyeglasses or medication) used by that individual. The guidance discusses how to take mitigating measures into account and clarifies the distinction between a mitigating measure and an auxiliary aid, related aid or service, or modification provided for a student with a disability. The guidance was developed in consultation with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987
OCR worked with the Department's Office of the General Counsel to amend the regulations implementing Title VI, Title IX, Section 504 and the Age Discrimination Act to conform with the 1987 Civil Rights Restoration Act's definition of "program or activity." The regulatory amendments will clarify that OCR's jurisdiction over recipients of federal funds is institution-wide, not program specific.
A revision to OCR's 1997 "Sexual Harassment Guidance" was drafted, outlining the responsibilities of federally assisted education institutions under Title IX to take appropriate action if students are sexually harassed by school employees, other students or third parties. The revised guidance will affirm OCR's 1997 guidance on sexual harassment but will clarify its foundation and reasoning in light of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that establish standards governing liability of schools for monetary damages in private lawsuits (Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District and Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education). The revised guidance will apply to OCR's administrative requirements, which are not the same as those that apply to private litigation for money damages.
How to Contact Us
OCR offices have customer service teams that respond to questions about students' rights and schools' responsibilities. See Appendix A for telephone numbers, fax numbers, TDD numbers and e-mail addresses for each of OCR's offices. OCR also serves the public through its Web page at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OCR/ and its toll-free telephone line [1-800-421-3481] that is staffed during business hours, Eastern time.