Office for Civil Rights
2000 Annual Report to Congress
OCR Develops Strategies That Work
"Thanks so much for your help. The parents really enjoyed hearing you."
February 24, 2000, note from
OCR pursued a balanced enforcement agenda in FY 2000, focusing on collaboration with state and local education authorities, emphasizing prevention of discrimination, and seeking partners in expanding access to quality education. By working collaboratively, we save taxpayer dollars while remaining focused on protecting the rights of students and ensuring their access to high standards and educational excellence.
Promoting a More Collaborative Process
OCR's Case Resolution Manual places primary emphasis on achieving effective change with the objective of resolving a complainant's allegations of discrimination promptly and appropriately. It emphasizes negotiation and other expedited resolution approaches for resolving complaints. Using this approach, OCR has been highly effective in obtaining voluntary resolution agreements to address civil rights concerns without having to forward findings for litigation. In addition, OCR can resolve more complaints with fewer staff, which allows OCR to use more of its resources on targeted proactive activities, such as compliance reviews, monitoring and technical assistance. Activities are chosen that will achieve access to high-quality and high-standards education for the greatest number of students possible.
"We're very pleased with the progress that our students have made in the program, and very pleased with the outcome of our collaboration with the Office for Civil Rights. We believe that the audit process that we entered into with your office has affected very positive change in the program."
August 4, 2000, letter from school district's
OCR places great reliance on collaborating with stakeholders to achieve optimal results. For example, OCR has been working collaboratively with a state education agency over the past year to ensure that all students with outstanding abilities have an equal opportunity to access gifted and talented programs offered by school districts in the state. During the course of several investigations, OCR found that screening and identification procedures used by several districts relied on a single criterion for placement of students in gifted and talented programs, which had the effect of reducing the number of minority students admitted to such programs. While the state issued comprehensive guidelines in 1997 to assist school systems in developing procedures that facilitate identification of education needs and appropriate services and provide for equal access for all students, OCR found that many school districts were misinterpreting the provisions of the state guidelines. Working together, OCR and the state identified several strategies to address OCR concerns. During the year, the state invited OCR to participate in its statewide conference for coordinators of gifted and talented programs to provide school districts with information on how to assess their policies and procedures to ensure that all students have equal access to gifted programs. The state issued a memorandum to all school districts clarifying the provisions of the guidelines to ensure that an appropriate, broad-based pool of students is considered for placement in gifted programs.
OCR recognizes that federal, state and local education agencies, parents, students, business leaders and other interested parties share a common goal of equal opportunity and access to high-quality education for all students. OCR uses its experience in educational partnerships with these groups to prevent civil rights problems.
Partnerships also are proving helpful in arriving at effective alternatives to complaints, including educationally sound remedies that increase opportunities for all students. For example, OCR entered into a partnership with a local education agency that included five special education local areas and 19 elementary and secondary education school districts that provide educational services to approximately 250,000 students. During FY 2000, the partnership conducted two workshops on disability issues. Approximately 200 district administrators, school board members, principals, special education directors, Section 504 coordinators, and both special and general education teachers attended the workshops. The goal of the partnership is to improve Section 504 compliance and, as a result, to lower the number of disability complaints received by OCR.
OCR worked with another school district as it sought to strengthen its relationship with parents of English language learners. The district sponsored informal, family-friendly activities in the community to give newcomer parents the opportunity to acquaint themselves with teachers and school staff. Three new parent action committees were formed for Polish bilingual, Russian bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. These committees work with district staff on such issues as improving effective communication with parents of English language learners, staff recruitment, and evaluation of the programs for English language learners. The cooperation between the district and the parent action committees ensures that all stakeholders will have a voice as the district restructures its English language acquisition programs.
One of OCR's strategic goals is to empower students and parents to resolve problems of securing equal access to quality education. For example, an OCR enforcement office received a call from a parent whose son was a senior high school football player with diabetes. The student had missed a practice because of an insulin reaction, and the school district invoked a policy requiring a player to sit out the first quarter because of a missed practice. The team was scheduled to play in the state football playoff game on the evening of the day that the parent called OCR. OCR staff helped the parent download information from OCR's Web site and, while not making a finding on the specific issue, OCR explained the requirements of Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and advised the parent on how to present the information to school authorities and discuss the impact of the policy on a student with a disability. Later that day the parent successfully resolved the issue with the school district. OCR has also encouraged parental involvement in agreements resulting from complaints and compliance reviews. Parental involvement is essential to achieving lasting change by ensuring that positive actions implemented by education institutions continue once OCR is no longer involved.
OCR continues to place increased focus on the monitoring of resolution agreements. This is one of the critical processes to maximize the effectiveness of OCR's resolutions. OCR's most well-crafted resolution agreements will do little good unless OCR monitors their implementation to ensure that change has occurred and that students, in fact, are receiving education benefits. Also, monitoring activities are helping to evaluate not only whether agreements are carried out but also whether barriers to quality education are eliminated and positive impact achieved.
During FY 2000, OCR monitored 2,049 complaint resolution agreements The following examples show major benefits to an individual as well as to an entire class of students when schools and colleges carried out their commitments:
OCR has established internal networks around specific civil rights compliance issues to provide a forum for building and sharing knowledge and expertise around each issue. The current networks are: access to gifted and talented programs and ability grouping; racial and sexual harassment; minorities and special education; services to English language learners; disability; testing and assessment; elementary and secondary school desegregation; and athletics.
The issue networks facilitate communication among OCR staff working on the same issues and encountering the same questions across the country. They also serve to refine OCR's case resolution tools and approaches, ensure consistency in applying legal standards and to promote knowledge-sharing throughout the agency.
These networks assist in our efforts to increase students' access to quality education. For example, OCR's disability network, in conjunction with the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA), the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), sponsored a three-day national conference on students with psychological disabilities in higher education. Approximately 200 individuals representing 120 colleges and universities attended the conference.
Members of the minorities and special education network made a presentation on effective strategies for reducing disproportionate representation of minorities in special education to approximately 30 administrators and special education personnel from large urban school districts, including Chicago, New York City, Houston, Miami-Dade County, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.