U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans

Strategic Priorities


The Office for Civil Rights has aligned its resources to ensure accomplishment of the goals and objectives in the No Child Left Behind Act and the Department's Strategic Plan 2002-2007.  Following is a discussion and examples of OCR's activities in support of the No Child Left Behind Act, the Strategic Plan, and two high-priority commission activities.

Putting Reading First

One of the primary goals of the No Child Left Behind Act is improving the academic performance of disadvantaged students.  Research has established a link between ineffective reading instruction and unusually high numbers of referrals for special education.  In addition, OCR survey data have long shown that minority students in particular may be mislabeled in certain special education categories.  Students inappropriately placed in special education, especially self-contained classes, do not receive a “free appropriate public education” as required by Section 504.  These students often do not receive the same curriculum content as regular education students and may face barriers in their later efforts to obtain a regular high school diploma, pursue postsecondary education and prepare for employment. 

A recent OCR compliance review of a school district established a correlation between minority students' sub-par reading performance and referrals for special education evaluation.  OCR examined the district's teacher-student assistance team processes, record-keeping, and staff development.  OCR also hired reading experts, including a member of the National Reading Panel, to evaluate the district's reading instruction in the primary grades.  In discussions with the district, OCR emphasized the importance of using research-based reading and instructional materials.  The district agreed to implement an action plan beginning in the 2002-2003 school year to prevent unnecessary student referrals for special education by meeting the unique educational needs of low-achieving children, children with disabilities and young children in need of reading assistance. 

“If we provide all children with scientifically based reading instruction delivered by well-trained teachers, many will never need special education.”  Rod Paige, Secretary of Education, 2001 Congressional Testimony

In cooperation with the Department's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, OCR commissioned a study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that resulted in a 2002 report entitled, Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education.  The NAS found that early identification of reading problems and research-based interventions in the early grades could substantially reduce the number of children that might otherwise be referred for special education evaluation.  To assist in future compliance and technical assistance efforts in this area, OCR commissioned the NAS to produce a document—specifically designed for use by school districts—that summarizes the NAS report findings and makes practical recommendations for implementation of its findings. 

Moving English Language Learners to English Proficiency

One of the key strategies in the No Child Left Behind Act and the ED Strategic Plan is to ensure that English language learner (ELL) students meet rigorous standards.  OCR has been monitoring the implementation of resolution agreements from more than 200 school districts to ensure that they have a mechanism for effective program evaluation, that they are evaluating their English language acquisition programs and the performance of ELL students and former ELL students and that they are making changes as needed to meet their education goals for these students.

In 2001, OCR issued a resolution letter in a complaint alleging that a school district had denied equal education opportunities to ELL students by physically segregating them from general education classes at two schools in the district.  The complaint also alleged that these students were excluded from extracurricular activities, such as assemblies and class trips.  The district agreed that ELL students would not be segregated from their non-ELL peers except to the extent necessary to provide them with alternative language services.  The district also agreed to provide ELL students equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, to encourage their participation and to reach out to parents.

Later that same year, OCR entered into an agreement to resolve a complaint alleging that a state department of education failed to provide information in a language that parents could understand on a state-mandated test given to students.  The state agreed to notify every school district in the state that the test guide was available in Spanish and provided copies to districts to distribute to Spanish-speaking parents before testing the following spring.

OCR also resolved a complaint against a large school district that alleged discrimination against ELL parents and students for failing to communicate with them in a language they can understand.  In concert with OCR, the district agreed to develop general policies and procedures for providing notification to and effective communications with ELL parents, assessing language needs of ELL parents, providing school district staff training on communications with ELL parents and competent interpreters and translating written materials that are available to non-ELL parents.

Promoting Informed Parental Choice and Innovative Programs

Single Sex Education

The No Child Left Behind Act authorizes local education agencies to use Innovative Programs funds provided by the Act to support same-sex schools and classrooms.  The Act also requires the Department to issue guidelines on single-sex classes and schools.  OCR implemented this Congressional mandate by issuing guidelines for school districts that describe and explain which types of single-sex instruction are permissible under current regulatory requirements.  OCR simultaneously issued a Notice of Intent to Regulate (NOIR) to explore the feasibility of providing additional flexibility to the Title IX implementing regulations so that educators may establish single-sex classes and schools at the elementary and secondary levels, while ensuring that recipients do not discriminate on the basis of sex.  The NOIR comment period ended on July 8, 2002, and OCR is currently reviewing the approximately 170 comments received.  After reviewing and assessing all of the comments received, OCR and the Department will decide if changes to the regulations are warranted.

OCR E&S Survey

The U.S. Department of Education Organization Act authorizes OCR to collect or coordinate the collection of data necessary to ensure compliance with the civil rights laws.  The OCR Elementary and Secondary School Survey (E&S Survey) is a biennial collection of civil rights-related data that samples about one-third of the nation's school districts and assists in identifying potential discriminatory practices and procedures. 

For the first time since 1976, OCR collected data from all of the nation's 14,859 school districts in its 2000-2001 E&S Survey.  By posting this data on its Internet site, OCR provided information that will better inform all parents and students as they make school choices and other important educational decisions.  Providing the survey data on the Internet also makes the information more readily accessible to a broad array of other OCR E&S Survey users, including policymakers at all levels of government. OCR has received OMB approval for its 2002-2003 school year E&S Survey of approximately one-third of the nation's school districts, to be sent out in early FY 2003.  Consistent with the Department's Performance Based Data Management Initiative, OCR has committed to an overall goal of a 25 percent reduction of data burden by September 30, 2003. 

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the Council of Chief State School Officers and OCR have worked to develop a new, optional data collection that allows states the option of providing data on their students with disabilities to the Department in a single data submission.  At least two states, Maryland and Wyoming, have agreed to participate in this collaborative data collection project for the 2002-2003 school year.

In the area of postsecondary education, OCR obtains information from NCES's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is built around a series of interrelated surveys to collect institution-level data in such areas as enrollments, program completions, faculty, staff and finances.  Among other purposes, OCR used this information to develop the 2002 List of U.S. Accredited Postsecondary Minority Institutions, which was posted on the Web for use by parents and students to identify potential postsecondary options.

Information for Parents and Recipients

“We are educating some of our children well.  But educating some of our children well is not our goal.  Our goal is to educate all of our children well.” Rod Paige
Secretary of Education March 26, 2002Parents are their children's first and best teachers, and involving them in their children's education is a critical component of the No Child Left Behind Act.  OCR has found that providing access to information and other resources empowers parents to become their children's advocates for a high-quality education.  OCR has undertaken a number of strategies to effectively disseminate civil rights information and reach and engage parents in compliance initiatives.  These include:  making OCR E&S survey data available on the OCR Web site to provide parents, students, and educators with important information about local schools; conducting outreach efforts specifically focused on ELL parents; and posting OCR publications on the Web.  For example, OCR recently posted a document entitled, "Protecting Students With Disabilities—Frequently Asked Questions about Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities."  Designed for use by parents, districts, and state agencies, its utility was confirmed by subsequent posting on the Web sites of the Wisconsin Department of Education, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Chicago Council for Disabilities.

In FYs 2001 and 2002, OCR made advances in the use of technology to deliver timely, accessible information to parents, students, teachers and education decision makers.  OCR implemented an interactive, Web-based, centralized contact information system to improve access to OCR information appropriate to customer needs.  Visitors to the Contact OCR page (http://www.ed.gov/ocr/contactus.html) may select a state from the pull-down menu and instantly receive mail and e-mail addresses and pertinent telephone numbers for the office with responsibility for the selected state.  Addresses and phone numbers are kept current, and when necessary, such as after the dislocation of the New York enforcement office on September 11, 2001, can be quickly changed to redirect communications to another location. 

Consistent with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Department of Education is making certain types of records, created on or after November 1, 1996, available electronically on the Internet.  During FY 2002, OCR established an electronic E-FOIA "reading room," where recipients and the public are now able to access electronically OCR's regulations and eventually its policies and other documents.  A location in the Department's library has been set aside to make available paper copies of OCR's materials.

On June 1, 2001, OCR made available to the public on the Department of Education Web site an online Discrimination Complaint Form.  The form (http://www.ed.gov/ocr/complaintintro.html) allows students, parents and others who believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age by recipients of financial assistance from the Department to initiate the complaint process using the Internet.  Complaints filed using the online complaint form are instantly directed to the OCR enforcement office having responsibility for the complaint, and complainants receive immediate notification by e‑mail that the complaint has been received.  Complaints filed electronically have constituted approximately one-third of all complaints filed with OCR since May 2002, when tracking of this data began.

Transition of Students with Disabilities to Postsecondary Education

More than ever before, high school students with disabilities are planning to pursue postsecondary education, including vocational and career schools, two- and four-year colleges, and universities.  The responsibilities of postsecondary schools to students with disabilities are significantly different from those of school districts.  In 2002, OCR published a new pamphlet to explain the rights and responsibilities of students with disabilities who are preparing to attend postsecondary schools.  The pamphlet also will be published in Spanish.  Several OCR enforcement offices made presentations on this issue and hosted interactive focus group discussions for parents“My Administration is committed to removing the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from realizing their full potential and achieving their dreams.” President George W. Bush Proclamation 7579 July 26, 2002, students, colleges and high school guidance counselors, often collaborating with university systems, parent organizations, and state education and vocational rehabilitation agencies.

OCR undertook a state-wide initiative to facilitate the transition of students with disabilities from high school to college.  Another initiative involved informing parents, teachers and counselors in an urban school district how qualified students with disabilities may seek accommodations when taking college entrance examinations. 


Encouraging Safe Schools

Harassment denies students the right to an education free of discrimination and can threaten a student's physical or emotional well-being, influence how well a student does in school and make it difficult for a student to achieve his or her career goals. Also, the courts have made it clear that, where harassment is so severe, pervasive, or persistent that it interferes with benefits protected by law, it creates an illegal "hostile environment."

Racial Harassment

“Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in racial discrimination.” President John F. Kennedy, 1963, in a message calling for the enactment of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act

OCR resolved a complaint prompted by an incident in which a high school homecoming parade included two trucks, one bearing a Confederate flag and the second pulling an effigy of a headless man.  The complaint alleged the incident created a racially hostile environment for African American students.  After OCR initiated settlement discussions, the district agreed to take action to address any allegations of racial harassment, develop a racial harassment policy and grievance procedures, and conduct training for its employees.

Another complaint resolved by OCR involved an African American student who alleged that he was removed as football team manager in retaliation for reporting an incident of alleged racial harassment.  In resolving the complaint, the district offered to reinstate the student to the position. 

Post-September 11 Harassment

Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, OCR sought to prevent and respond to incidents of harassment and violence directed at students, teachers or other persons perceived to be Arab Americans or of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin.  This included OCR's assistance in preparing a Dear Colleague letter that Secretary Paige sent, on September 19, 2001, to the leaders of the nation's schools, colleges and universities.  The letter outlines several ways schools can prevent harassment and highlights their responsibilities under Title VI for providing students with an education free from racial or national origin discrimination.

OCR received ten complaints after September 11 alleging harassment directed at persons perceived to be Arab Americans or of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin.  In addition to investigating and resolving these complaints, OCR also offered to help several universities where there had been physical assaults on Arab American and Saudi Arabian students and where Muslim students had received death threats.  OCR responded to numerous requests to provide technical assistance aimed at preventing "backlash" situations and promoting a safe education environment.  OCR also co-sponsored with the Department of Justice's Community Relations Service training on understanding Islam, Muslim, Arab and Sikh culture.

Sexual Harassment

OCR received a complaint alleging that a school district did not take reasonable steps to end harassment against a complainant's daughters and prevent its recurrence.  Following OCR's investigation, the district agreed to investigate and issue written decisions on all complaints of sexual harassment.  The district will take immediate corrective action to end the harassment and ensure it does not recur.  The district also agreed to offer counseling to one of the complainant's daughters in order to assist her in overcoming any effects of sexual harassment.

In another complaint, a father alleged that, after his son became the only male participant on the cheerleading squad three years ago, he was continuously subjected to peer harassment on the basis of his sex and that school officials did little to discourage the harassment.  The district agreed to enforce its sexual harassment policies and procedures in an even-handed manner for both sexes and provide sexual harassment training to students and staff. 

Encouraging Accountability

In order to further improve accountability for OCR’s cases, during FYs 2001 and 2002 OCR was developing a new Case Management System (CMS) that will include both case-related data and documents; it is scheduled for implementation in FY 2003.  The CMS represents a new way for OCR to manage its law enforcement activities and through the use of technology incorporate new concepts and approaches in both case and document management.

In particular, the new case management function will allow all staff—investigators, attorneys, support and management—to:

The document management function will allow staff to control, organize, access and share vital information quickly, easily, and accurately.  Word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, images and e-mail messages—virtually any type of data file—can be managed with this new system.  All case information and technical assistance activities will be recorded in a single, centralized database, accessible directly from users' desktops with their Internet browsers.

New Statutory Responsibility

The Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, part of the No Child Left Behind Act, addresses equal access to public school facilities for the Boy Scouts and other specified patriotic youth groups.  To inform recipients and others of this new law and of the Department’s intention to initiate the rulemaking process, OCR issued in April 2002 a Dear Colleague and a Dear Interested Party letter.  The Dear Colleague letter was sent to school district superintendents, chief state school officers and education groups. The Dear Interested Party letter, which enclosed the Dear Colleague letter, was sent to the Boy Scouts of America, the Department's Equity Assistance Centers and civil rights organizations.

Secretary of Education's Commission on Opportunity in Athletics

Secretary Paige announced on June 27, 2002, the establishment of the Secretary of Education's Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, composed of representatives of athletes, educators, coaches and other interested parties.  Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Gerald Reynolds, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education Sally Stroup, and General Counsel Brian Jones were ex officio members of the Commission, which was charged with examining and making recommendations to the secretary on whether current Title IX compliance standards should be revised to strengthen athletic opportunities and clarify the obligations of colleges and schools to ensure fairness for all athletes.  The Commission held town hall meetings across the country, receiving testimony from panels of experts and members of the public.  The Commission’s Report with recommendations was submitted to the secretary in February 2003.

Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Commission

President Bush signed legislation on September 18, 2001, establishing a Commission to encourage and coordinate activities that will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education declaring racially segregated schools unconstitutional.  The Commission will disseminate knowledge about the Brown decision through lectures, writing contests and public service announcements.  Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Gerald Reynolds and the Department of Justice’s Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Ralph Boyd are co-chairs of the Commission.  OCR is responsible for organizing and managing the Commission.  In announcing the formation of the Commission, on September 6, 2002, Secretary Rod Paige linked the Brown decision to the comprehensive education reforms enacted under the No Child Left Behind Act.