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

1995 Annual Report to Congress -- April 2, 1996

Introduction: OCR is Changing

The Office for Civil Rights enforces the laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, disability and age in America's schools, colleges and universities. OCR ensures that remedies to discrimination that has occurred are strong and educationally sound. Through education and outreach, OCR prevents illegal discrimination from occurring in the first place.

OCR works with communities and their schools. Information from local educators and civil rights advocates informs OCR's development of its proactive agenda. Investigations may require on-site visits to interview witnesses and gather evidence. In a case of illegal discrimination, parent monitoring groups and the involvement of local education resources will enhance the strength of a remedial plan. Administrative hearings for cases that cannot be resolved through negotiation with school officials typically take place in the jurisdiction where the school is located. In all cases, strong communication with local educators and civil rights advocates reduces the adversarial nature of OCR's law enforcement activities, and promotes preventive approaches to avoiding illegal discrimination.

In 1993, this Administration inherited a reactive approach to civil rights enforcement. More than 420 complaints of discrimination from the public had been unresolved for more than a year. The US General Accounting Office and witnesses before Congress year after year criticized OCR for its failure to protect students from egregious cases of discrimination. Credibility among parents and advocates, as well as among school, college and university officials who had to work with the agency, was low. Because the vast majority of the agency's resources were spent reacting to complaints that arrived in the morning mail, glaring instances of long-standing discrimination went unredressed.

By 1995, OCR had built a proactive civil rights law enforcement program that could credibly claim to protect America's most vulnerable students from illegal discrimination. Resolution of 178 agency-initiated actions in FY 1995 alone (up from 82 resolutions in FY 1993) resulted in equal access to education for thousands of additional students facing illegal discrimination. This proactive agenda in no way compromised OCR's commitment to the prompt and appropriate resolution of each complaint of discrimination from the public. OCR resolved more than 5,500 complaints from the public in FY 1995, more than ever before, on average within 120 days, more promptly than ever before. At the same time, OCR's staff reduction from 854 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) in FY 1993 to 788 in FY 1995 evidenced the agency's commitment to efficiency.

Most of OCR's critical activities take place in its enforcement offices. As a result of changes of the past few years, 87% of OCR staff in FY 1996 work outside of Washington (or in the newly-established District of Columbia enforcement office), and virtually all decisions affecting OCR's cases and their resolution are made in the field. In Washington, a small Office of the Assistant Secretary provides overall leadership and coordination of OCR's four enforcement divisions. A program/legal group supports the work of the enforcement divisions, and provides important policy coordination and legal advice with other parts of the Department and government. A resource group provides centralized services for the enforcement divisions and the public in the areas of customer service, information technology, budget and personnel. OCR thereby achieves the maximum concentration of effort on its critical work of identifying, stopping and remedying illegal discrimination against America's students.

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