Annual Report to Congress Fiscal Year 1998
The OCR enforces Section 504, prohibiting disability discrimination in federally funded programs and activities, and Title II, prohibiting disability discrimination by all public entities. Fully 60 percent of all complaints filed with the OCR in fiscal year 1998 were filed by students and their parents who alleged discrimination on the basis of disability. Along with investigating these 2,812 disability complaints, OCR also initiated 6 new compliance reviews covering both disability and race/national origin issues, and 1 review on the issues of disability, race/national origin and sex.
The bulk of the OCR's investigations in the past year focused on the provision of:
Here are some of the stories of the OCR's work in fiscal year 1998 that represent the struggle to provide equal access to an appropriate education program for students with disabilities.
Young children who are mobility impaired were unable to play outdoors with their classmates because they could not use the school's playground equipment or even enter the play area. After working with the OCR to resolve a parent's complaint, the school district agreed to provide a range of accessible play facilities equivalent to those provided to students who are not mobility impaired, and to make sure that routes to play equipment and sand areas are available to all students.
A fifth-grade student with Aperger's Syndrome - a form of autism often accompanied by a high I.Q. - was denied a free and appropriate education because his school district did not believe it had a legal obligation to serve him due to his high intelligence. As a result of the OCR's actions, the district provided the student with the education, services and aids he requires based on his needs. This case also served to alert the OCR to potential future problems in this school district. As a result of the agency's work, the district agreed to identify and locate every qualified student with a disability who was not receiving a public education, and inform them and their parents of the district's obligations under Section 504.
Parents who were hearing impaired were having a difficult time participating in their kindergarten daughter's schooling because they received inadequate and inaccurate information from an interpreter hired by the school district. Civil rights laws in education covering disabilities ensure access to education information not just for students with disabilities but also for students' parents or guardians who may be disabled. With OCR's assistance, the parents and their district resolved their differences and agreed to a strategy for improving communication for the next 12 years of the child's education.
A camp that asked a local school district for referrals to enroll children with mental health problems refused to admit a child with diabetes. The camp cited possible health risks despite assurances from the child's physician and his grandmother that his health was well-managed and posed no risk as long as camp employees were notified of his diabetes. The OCR mediated to allow the child to enter the camp program. It also made the school district aware of its legal obligations to students when it worked with other organizations. In addition, the OCR alerted its sister organization, the Office for Civil Rights in the United States Department of Health and Human Services, so that this agency with direct jurisdiction over the camp could provide technical assistance to camp administrators.
A disabled kindergarten student who was enrolled in a charter school during its first year of operation was having behavioral problems related to his disability. Few special services were given him and, at the beginning of his second year, the charter school notified the parents of a decision to hold an expulsion hearing for their child. The parents withdrew their son from the school and filed a complaint with the OCR, which determined that the charter school had violated anti-discrimination laws by failing to provide supplementary aids and a continuum of special education services to the child. The charter school agreed to readmit the boy and reimburse his family for the remedial tutoring, therapy and child care that resulted from his exclusion. The student is now in third grade and is making good progress at the school. The OCR continues to monitor the charter school's provision of special education services to students.
An older student who had lost one hand and a leg was required by his business college to demonstrate his typing skills and his ability to move around the classroom before the school would admit him to its keyboarding class, although it made no other students demonstrate skills or agility. The school's additional requirement for the student on the basis of his disability is prohibited by civil rights laws. As a result of the OCR's intervention, the business college amended its policies and practices, admitted the student to the program and purchased a tutorial program appropriate for use by a person without two hands.
In a state that serves nearly one million students through the largest community college system in the nation, students with visual impairments were being denied access to print materials and computer-based information. Their chance to attain degrees was significantly impaired by an inability to receive publications and other information in a format they could use. The OCR worked with administrators of all 110 colleges to: develop a strategy that purchased adaptive hardware cost-effectively; provide advance adaptive technology training for specialists; create disability access guidelines for distance learning and web pages; establish a system-wide translation center; create a central registry of tape and Braille materials; and move responsibility for accessible libraries to library personnel rather than student services personnel. Through these actions, thousands of already-enrolled visually impaired students significantly increased their ease of access and ability to complete college requirements. Future students with visual impairments, too, will enjoy equal access to necessary educational information.
A freshman college student fell into a coma. When he recovered, he had lost some of his cognitive skills and short-term memory. Altogether, he was out of school for 18 months. When he returned, his physician recommended that he enroll in no more than three courses a semester. The university refused to lower its four-course requirement for more than one semester because its policy was to allow only eight semesters total to complete undergraduate requirements. University officials defended their position by stating they had been flexible in allowing the student one part-time semester and that rigorous standards were a hallmark of the top-ranked school. After the OCR saw that the university had not considered the severity of the student's disability and that giving him additional time would not jeopardize its competitive ranking, officials agreed to change their policy for this student and all future students with disabilities whose conditions make them incapable of successful full-time enrollment.
A 13-year-old student with multiple disabilities learned he couldn't go on field trips with his classmates because his school would not arrange accessible transportation for him. The OCR negotiated with his school district to ensure proper transportation and an aide whenever there was a field trip involving his class.
A nine-year-old girl with clinical childhood depression needed an individualized education program. As a result of the OCR's efforts, the rural school district initiated staff training addressing the needs of young children with emotional problems that will assist teachers working with future students with similar issues.
A student's father could not attend his daughter's athletic events because they were held at facilities where his wheelchair could not be accommodated, which is a violation of civil rights laws. He needed the OCR to inform the school district of their obligations.
A high school senior with bi-polar disorder and other medical issues earned a high school diploma but was told that she could not take part in the graduation ceremony with her twin sister and classmates because her last semester was spent in a special program. The OCR received her complaint only four days before graduation but quickly responded with intensive effort so that the senior could take part in the ceremony with her classmates.
In many school districts, minority students are under-represented in programs for gifted and talented students. The issue in five school districts was whether the pipeline to programs for gifted students had been narrowed, illegally denying access to minority students. In all the districts, a resolution agreement specified that students would have equal access to these programs through improved policies and practices that include better notice, broader screening strategies designed to locate non-traditional gifted students, and the use of a broader variety of evaluation and eligibility criteria. In addition, one of these districts - with only two percent of its gifted students being minority students -started up a pilot program to identify gifted students. The pilot was a success from all perspectives: the district was pleased at the additional number of minority students it expects to identify for gifted programs, and the youngsters were excited by being given challenges they had not been given in the past to show their writing skills, carry out research and perform laboratory experiments.
The OCR established that a school district unjustifiably segregated Latino students from other students during both academic and non-academic classes. Latino students were even separated from others for lunch and assemblies. The reason for their segregation was solely their national origin: the district did not measure their English-language skills before grouping them with other Latino students. The district had other problems, as well. In these children's academic program, the quality of schooling varied from one grade to the next and lacked an overall educational framework. By the time the students reached high school, they had a significantly higher drop-out rate and a lower college admission rate than students who were not Latino. Through assistance from the OCR and its ties to the state department of education and the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center, the district designed a comprehensive program to end segregation and implement effective programs for English-language-learning students of all national origins. Both the district and the community have praised the OCR for our method of resolving this issue and for the continuing assistance provided.
One state administered standardized tests to determine which low-achieving students should be placed in classes for the educationally mentally retarded and which should be placed in classes for the learning disabled. In general, educators believe it is more favorable and less restrictive for students to be placed in classes for learning disorders than in classes for educationally mentally retarded students. Despite the similar scores of African American and white students, the African American students were nearly all grouped in educationally mentally retarded classes, while white students were grouped in classes for students with learning disabilities. The OCR worked with the state department of education and local school districts to develop valid and fair methods of determining program placement that were administered reliably and equitably to students of all races.
A parent of a high school student complained that her son and another African American student were being racially harassed by other students. These students used racial slurs and epithets about these two students and about her. The district is 97 percent white. The district's student handbook did not refer to any disciplinary sanctions for students who commit actions of racial discrimination, including racial harassment and name-calling. In addition, the complainant said that the school did not discipline the students involved nor did it adequately address her concerns. As a result of the OCR's intervention, the school district agreed to modify its racial harassment policy and establish a community forum to address this issue and others. The district will also take steps to learn how to recruit minority teachers successfully by working with the area Desegregation Assistance Center and an affirmative action cooperative.
One historically black university that is part of a state's higher education system had been, for a period of decades, underfunded compared to other universities in the state. Working with the OCR, the state agreed to construct and renovate university buildings. The state also enhanced a number of popular academic programs with the expectation that the strengthened programs will assist the university in attracting both minority and non-minority students. During the OCR-state partnership, Time magazine named this historically black university its college of the year.
A school district agreed to establish a disciplinary committee - including students, parents and community members as well as teachers and school officials - responsible for reviewing regulations and policies after a disproportionally high number of African American students were disciplined. Data on disciplinary actions also will be collected and analyzed, with the aim of identifying and addressing patterns of concern.
A school district with a large immigrant Korean population agreed to provide parents who have limited-English skills information in their native language, in accordance with civil rights laws, so they could be informed and involved in their children's education.
Racial epithets scrawled on school walls were not removed, resulting in a protest by the district's African American students, who were arrested by police for inciting a riot. In this case, the state education department and the United States Department of Justice, as well as the OCR, investigated. The district took action to ensure better understanding between races, as well as making changes in curriculum and hiring practices, and adding a mentoring program for African American students.
Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. Since its passage 26 years ago, girls and women have made incredible progress in attaining college and graduate degrees, as well as in entering non-traditional fields.
In fiscal year 1998, 530 complaints, or 11 percent, were filed on the grounds of sex discrimination. Issues covered in these complaints included:
Three compliance reviews were conducted solely on sex discrimination issues, four combined the issues of race/national origin and sex, and one was on the issues of race/national origin, disability and sex. The areas covered by these reviews were equal opportunity in interscholastic or intercollegiate athletics, and sexual harassment.
A complaint came in to OCR about a school district that required pregnant students to take all their academic classes at an off-campus site, as well as mandating their attendance at a parenting program. The OCR found that the district, in violation of Title IX, assigned all pregnant girls to a program exclusively for pregnant students that limited their participation in some education and all extracurricular activities. Through the efforts of the OCR, the district agreed to give pregnant students equal access to regular education services and extracurricular activities, and to open the parenting program to any interested student.
A disabled middle-school student was being sexually harassed by a disabled boy who verbally assaulted her and made lewd physical gestures at the rehabilitation center where the school district had placed her. The district admitted that it had not informed its contract center of the district's sexual harassment policy, nor did the district determine the extent to which the male's behavior was symptomatic of his disability. Nor did it investigate the girl's mother's complaints, and its actions were insufficient in ending the harassment. With the OCR, the district worked out an agreement that stipulated revision and dissemination of the sexual harassment policy to all parties including contractors, training of all staff including contractors, compensatory services and a plan to keep the student and her harasser separated.
A female cadet in a United States Army/District Cadet Junior ROTC program that was administered by a local school district was denied promotion to the battalion commander rank due to her sex, suffered discriminatory remarks by her ROTC instructor and was threatened by his assistant. The student filed a complaint based on sex discrimination with OCR because of its jurisdiction over the district's programs and activities. As a result, the district enhanced its nondiscrimination policy and sensitized the ROTC instructors to their obligations under Title IX, focusing on sex discrimination and sexual harassment. After the agreement was implemented, the girl's parents called their local OCR office and informed the staff of their daughter's promotion to battalion commander, the first time a girl had held this position in the history of the school's ROTC program.
One ninth-grade girl was subjected to unbearable sexual harassment by a group of female students. When her school would not address the harassment despite repeated parental appeals, the girl received home-bound instruction, which further isolated her, in both her academic and social lives. The OCR made clear the school's obligation to provide a non-threatening environment in which all students could learn and, as a result, the girl returned to school and was promoted to the tenth grade. Besides stopping the harassing action, the school took measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
To bring its intercollegiate athletics program into compliance with Title IX, one community college expanded opportunities for women by proposing to add athletic teams. By doing this, the college was meeting the requirements of the OCR's three-part test on intercollegiate athletics, which states that a college provides nondiscriminatory opportunities for men and women if it meets any one part of this test. The three parts are:
About two-thirds of colleges chose to comply with Title IX by deciding to fully and effectively accommodate the interest and abilities of the under-represented sex. This story is a good example of a college using this method. Although not all colleges are able to add men's teams as this one did, never would the OCR mandate a college to drop a men's team to comply with Title IX. With assistance from the OCR, the college determined the interest and ability of women students and, as a result, has nearly doubled participation opportunities for women. During its discussions with the OCR, the college saw that by adding golf, swimming and tennis teams for women, it could also add men's teams in these same sports for little additional cost.
A brand-new high school included a state-of-the-art baseball facility for boys, including dugouts, generous seating, lockers, a storage room and PA system. In addition, the field was large enough for both the junior and senior players to practice and play. In contrast, the girls were told there was no softball field for them: instead, the school had made arrangements with a local church to share their field. This field had no seating, locker room, dugout, storage room or PA system, and the field itself was not comparable in quality or size to the one provided to boys. After OCR's intervention, the school district not only built a comparable softball facility for girls but it also reviewed facilities for girls at other schools to determine any needed upgrades.
A complaint filed by a national advocacy group against a university alleged that it discriminated against women athletes in awarding scholarships. Title IX provides that when a college or university awards athletic scholarships, these scholarship awards must be granted to "members of each sex in proportion to the number of students of each sex participating in ? intercollegiate athletics." In this case, the OCR's investigation concluded that the university was not awarding substantially equal amounts of scholarship dollars to the men's and women's programs, and it initiated settlement discussions. Working voluntarily with the OCR, the university will ensure that both the male and female athletic programs receive an equitable share of scholarship monies. As an immediate remedy to the identified disparity, the women's athletic program will receive an increase of about $269,000 over the next two years.
A pregnant student was denied the right to participate in an automobile-painting class because her teacher claimed the chemicals would pose risk to her unborn child. Her physician's statement that she was not at risk as long as she wore the same protective clothing as the other students was disregarded and her instructor continued to verbally abuse her for her behavior. The OCR requested that the school reinstate her to the class and the district sent the instructor to sensitivity training classes.
A district, with the help of the OCR, agreed to enroll a student in a neighboring district as she had requested because she had been sexually harassed rather than make her continue to face her former harassers.