OCR strives to communicate clearly how the civil rights laws apply in particular situations to help people understand their rights and education institutions understand their obligations. Clearly articulated standards enable OCR staff to make consistent compliance determinations that are legally supportable and based on a fair and thorough analysis of information.
In addition to the regulatory and policy guidance activities discussed in the Strategic Priorities section above, during the first quarter of FY 2001, OCR amended 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, which became effective on December 13, 2000, clarify that OCR's jurisdiction over recipients of federal funds is institution-wide, not program specific. The Department of Education was the first federal agency to amend its regulation to conform to the Civil Rights Restoration Act.
The Magnet Schools Assistance program (MSAP), administered by the Department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, provides financial assistance to school districts that are seeking to improve educational programs and to reduce, prevent or eliminate minority group isolation. The program provides three-year grants for the enhancement or establishment of magnet schools. The Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights is required to certify the civil rights eligibility of applicants for MSAP funds and to annually review school district grantees' progress in meeting their desegregation goals. During FY 2001, OCR provided technical assistance to and certified new three-year awards for 60 school districts and reviewed the annual reports of four grantees. During FY 2002, OCR provided technical assistance, certified new three-year awards for two more school districts, and reviewed the annual reports of the 64 districts receiving MSAP assistance during the previous year.
Under OCR's Vocational Education Programs Guidelines, state vocational education agencies are responsible for conducting civil rights reviews and other compliance activities with their sub-recipient schools and programs and reporting to OCR about these activities. State vocational education agency reports are submitted biennially to OCR. Most of the reviews conducted by state agencies in 2001 and 2002 resulted in recommendations for improving student access to vocational programs on the basis of race, national origin, sex or disability. OCR responded to the state agency reports by providing constructive suggestions for enhancing the effectiveness of the agencies' compliance and enforcement activities.
In both 2001 and 2002, OCR, in conjunction with state agencies, presented training conferences for state agency civil rights staff. These conferences provided in-depth training on the procedures and techniques state agencies should use in conducting their civil rights compliance reviews and reporting to OCR. Training also was provided about legal standards and investigating techniques applicable to a variety of complex civil rights issues. Participants later reported that the workshops provided valuable tools and information, as well as contacts, to enhance the effectiveness of their civil rights compliance and enforcement programs.
Nineteen states previously operated racially segregated higher education systems. In United States v. Fordice, the U.S. Supreme Court set out standards for determining whether such states have met their affirmative duty to dismantle those systems and their vestiges under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title VI. In FYs 2001 and 2002, OCR resolved its investigations of the higher education systems of Maryland and Virginia.
The agreement with Maryland calls for the continued enhancement of its four historically black institutions and measures to encourage enrollment, retention and graduation of African American students at the traditionally white institutions. A cornerstone of the agreement is the avoidance of unnecessary program duplication, a particular challenge because of the close proximity of Maryland's historically black and traditionally white institutions. The agreement contains an initiative to prepare teachers to teach students from diverse backgrounds. It also calls for Maryland stakeholders to improve education on the elementary and secondary levels, including the development of strategies to make students aware of college possibilities at the earliest levels of their education.
The agreement with Virginia strengthens Virginia State University and Norfolk State University, the state's historically black institutions. Twelve new academic programs will be added at Virginia State and Norfolk State. These include a doctoral program in Educational Administration and master’s degree programs in Electronic Engineering, Optical Engineering, Computer Science and Criminal Justice. The agreement also provides for the financing of several capital projects at these institutions, including building renovations, additional computer networks and campus-wide internet access.
In addition to Maryland and Virginia, OCR continues to monitor the implementation of its higher education agreements with five other states, including Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania.
It is important to understand the profound influence OCR's enforcement program is having on the lives of people, at all education levels, across the country. Below are some examples.
Removing Categorical Exclusion of Students with Disabilities
Students with disabilities must not be discriminated against in the provision of opportunity to participate in academic and extracurricular activities. OCR resolved several cases where students were denied opportunities solely based on their disabilities. For example, a policy of a school district denied students with disabilities the opportunity to take college preparatory courses. Instead, the district counseled the students to take technology career courses. School officials entered into an agreement with OCR requiring that all education decisions for students with disabilities, including courses of study, be conducted through the district's individualized education program process.
A student who uses a wheelchair was informed that he could not take a weight training class at a college because there was no equipment to accommodate him. After a complaint was filed with OCR on behalf of the student, the college agreed to purchase the equipment, train all weight room staff and assist the student in using the equipment.
Disabled students were not permitted by a school district to participate in computer classes that provided reading and math enhancement instruction. Also, they were categorically excluded from receiving a "Student of the Month" award. Under an agreement negotiated with OCR, the district agreed to permit students with disabilities to enroll in the enhancement classes. Further, the district agreed to change the criteria to ensure that students with disabilities are eligible to receive the award.
A parent was told that her child could not go on a grade school camping trip because of his disability. The parent turned to OCR for help. After OCR's investigation, the district agreed to permit students with disabilities to participate in extracurricular activities to the maximum extent appropriate to their needs. Further, these considerations are to be documented in students’ individualized education programs.
In another complaint, OCR found that school yearbooks separated students with disabilities from their classmates. The same practice occurred at school assemblies. As a result of its resolution agreement, the district issued a directive prohibiting the segregation of students with disabilities in all school publications and at general assemblies.
Eliminating Shortened School Day for Students with Disabilities
Transportation scheduling at an elementary school resulted in a shorter school day for special education students over a four-year period. After the complaint filed with OCR was brought to its attention, the district agreed to provide identical school day schedules for all students, unless exceptions are specifically stated in a student's individualized education program. Under its resolution agreement, the district will offer a supplemental special education class for students who were affected by the previous early dismissal policy.
Providing Educational Support Services for Students with Disabilities
One of OCR's enforcement offices received a complaint from a parent alleging that a school district was not providing instructional services required in her daughter's individualized education program. After being contacted by OCR, the school placed the student in a school setting that provides the necessary educational support services. In a letter of appreciation to OCR, the parent enclosed a copy of the student’s honor roll certificate and stated that the new services made it possible for the student to go from "D" grades to the honor roll.
Making Testing Accommodations for Students with Disabilities
A high school student with severe disabilities who had successfully completed all of her required course work was prevented from demonstrating her achievement of academic standards on the state graduation examination. The student has limited motor abilities and can communicate only through eye motion. The state, school district and OCR reached an accord to allow the student to take the same test as all other high school seniors using "Dyna Vox," an augmentative communication device, and having an assistant record her responses. This accommodation would not have invalidated the test result. The student also was allowed to retake the test as often as students without disabilities. However, with the necessary accommodation, the student passed the state test on her first try and was awarded a high school diploma, rather than a certificate of attendance.
Providing Auxiliary Aids for Students with Disabilities
A biomedical engineering student alleged that a university failed to provide auxiliary aids and services needed for her hearing impairment. The university resolved the complaint by agreeing to provide computer-assisted and real-time captioning for those classes for which she needed services. The university also agreed to reimburse the student $13,000 in expenses that she had incurred to obtain these services before filing a complaint with OCR.
Making Academic Adjustments for Students with Disabilities
A graduate student with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome alleged that a university denied his request for academic adjustments. While investigating the complaint, OCR began discussions with school officials. The student was granted a number of academic adjustments. These included a reduced course load, extension of due dates for assignments, rescheduling of examinations when necessary, and priority registration.
Providing Students with Visual Impairments Access to Quality Textbooks
A complaint against a state department of education alleged that adapted textbooks and other scholastic materials for students with visual impairments were of poor quality and habitually delivered to school districts after the beginning of classes. After OCR's investigation, the state department of education made comprehensive commitments to ensure that visually impaired students have timely access high-quality textbooks. For example, it will establish a quality assurance system monitor adapted textbooks and processes used by other states, American Federation Blind, Printing House Blind in providing modified Also, work with attorney general board amend textbook contract require materials electronic versions. If necessary, the state will produce the textbooks to ensure that materials are delivered on time. The agreement covers textbooks printed in Braille, large print and audiotape.
Making Programs Accessible to Students with Disabilities
An individual with a disability may not be excluded from an educational program because an institution's facilities are inaccessible or unusable by individuals with disabilities. OCR investigated a complaint from a mother of a mobility-impaired high school student. She indicated that many days her son came home in tears because of problems with the school's restroom facilities. She also witnessed his pain in not being able to use playground equipment while in grade school. Following OCR's investigation, the district made modifications to the high school restrooms and addressed accessibility issues found in computer and home economics classes, libraries and gymnasiums at its 16 schools. The district also will modify school playgrounds to ensure that the range of activities available to students with disabilities is equivalent to that available to students without disabilities.
Disciplining Students Without Regard to Race or National Origin
OCR investigated a complaint by a parent that African American students at a vocational education center were disciplined under the center's gang-related policy for wearing red clothing. The parent also alleged that her son was subjected to a visit and search by local police. White students who wore red clothing were not subject to such treatment. The center agreed to apply its policy on gangs in an even-handed manner to all students. This included documenting warnings given to students believed to be in violation of the apparel provision of its policy and implementing a tracking system to monitor these warnings. Also, the center will provide in-service training on racial profiling and ways to prevent selective enforcement of its gang-related policy.
Eliminating Support for Organizations with Racially Exclusionary Policies
OCR found that white students were excluded from participating in events sponsored by some outside organizations that were held in a school district’s facilities. The district made commitments aimed at ensuring that events held in school facilities are open to all persons regardless of race, color or national origin. The district agreed to review the charters of organizations that receive district support to ensure there are no exclusionary provisions based on a student's racial or ethnic status. Also, the district will review materials such organizations wish to distribute to students to make sure they are aimed at reaching all students.
Providing Equal Educational Opportunities to Pregnant Students
A school system may not discriminate against any student on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or conditions associated with pregnancy. A parent alleged that a school district discriminated against her daughter by subjecting her to different treatment in providing homebound services because of her pregnancy. The concerns related to the quality of tutors and amount of instructional time. Under its agreement, the district will use only certified staff for its homebound program. In addition, the district will develop objective criteria to provide consistent, minimum amounts of time for instructional services in the homebound program.
In the past two years, OCR filed an administrative enforcement action against one recipient of federal financial assistance. A Notice of Opportunity for Hearing to terminate federal financial assistance was issued to a school district for refusing to provide transportation to and from extracurricular activities for elementary school students with disabilities. After a two-day hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the district submitted a settlement agreement to OCR in which the district agreed to revise its individualized education program (IEP) form to ensure that a student's participation in extracurricular activities is considered at the IEP committee meeting. In addition, the district made a commitment to provide transportation for all students with disabilities who have extracurricular activities listed on the IEPs as part of their appropriate education programs. The case was dismissed by the ALJ, based upon OCR's motion, on April 30, 2001. OCR completed monitoring of the case on June 4, 2002, after determining that the district met all of the commitments of the settlement agreement.
OCR's current performance indicators measure timeliness of case processing and program outputs, such as percentages of OCR-directed technical assistance and resource materials for recipients and parents. These indicators address only a portion of OCR’s enforcement activities, and we are collecting data and working to develop additional indicators to reflect more fully the work that we do.
OMB and Congress have each recognized our indicator on case processing—that 80 percent of our complaints are to be resolved within 180 days—as a very useful measure of the efficiency and effectiveness of our complaint resolution process. Timeliness is critical to students and parents in the resolution of civil rights issues and is an indicator of positive case outcomes. In FY 2001, OCR resolved 84 percent of its complaints within 180 days, as compared to FY 2000 when 78 percent were resolved within the 180-day timeframe. In FY 2002, 89 percent of complaints were resolved within 180 days, one of the highest annual complaint resolution rates since OCR began tracking this data in the 1970s.
To find additional ways to measure OCR's performance, OCR has created a section of the new Case Management System (CMS) to collect available outcome information once case monitoring is complete. For example, school districts are required to provide an English language acquisition program for limited English proficient (LEP) students and to periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the programs. To do so, districts often look at, among other things, achievement scores for former LEP students, the percentage of students exiting from the programs annually with proficiency in English, achievement scores for students enrolled in the program and who have exited, drop out rates and high school graduation rates. This outcome information is the type of information that will be available when the CMS is fully operational.
The CMS is scheduled to be operational in 2003. Once the system is well populated, we will be in a position to develop other measures of OCR’s effectiveness in addition to those measures of timeliness of case processing and provision of technical assistance already in place.