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

Office for Civil Rights Annual Report to Congress (1999)

How OCR Does Its Work

Organizational Structure

Most of OCR's activities are conducted by its 12 enforcement offices throughout the country. These enforcement offices are organized into 4 divisions (Eastern, Western, Midwestern and Southern) working on OCR's core work -- preventing, identifying, ending, and remedying discrimination against America's students. The headquarters office, located in Washington, D.C., provides overall leadership, policy development and coordination.

OCR Resolves Complaints

One important way OCR carries out its responsibilities is by resolving complaints. Persons who believe there has been a violation of the civil rights laws enforced by OCR may file complaints with the appropriate enforcement office (See Appendix A). The person or organization filing the complaint may be a victim of the alleged discrimination or may complain on behalf of another person or group. The complaint process provides a forum for resolution of alleged discrimination against individuals protected by the civil rights laws.

"On behalf of all your clients, thank you for all the work you do ... I sincerely hope that future students ... will know how to access help in a timely fashion."

January 5, 1999, letter from student
who received a college loan credit
as a result of OCR's case resolution

OCR's primary objective in complaint resolution is to resolve the complainant's allegations of discrimination promptly, fairly and appropriately. In FY 1999, OCR used a variety of techniques to resolve 5,369 complaints. These range from facilitating voluntary resolutions between parties to OCR negotiating agreements with recipients for voluntary compliance. If these methods fail, OCR uses enforcement by requiring remedies for civil rights violations that are not voluntarily corrected or litigation in the event that negotiations fail. This flexible approach allows OCR to:

OCR Conducts Compliance Reviews

Not all illegal discrimination can be stopped or remedied by responding to complaints that arrive from the public. Agency-initiated cases, typically called "compliance reviews," permit OCR to target resources on compliance problems that are particularly acute, national in scope, or newly emerging.

Targeted compliance reviews maximize the impact of OCR's resources and balance the enforcement program. Experience indicates that carefully targeted compliance reviews are likely to benefit large numbers of students through policy or program changes that are designed to secure equal educational opportunity.

OCR initiated 76 compliance reviews in FY 1999 and brought 93 reviews to successful resolution, some of which had been started in previous years. Compliance reviews are selected based on various sources of information, including survey data as well as information provided by parents, education groups, media, community organizations and the public. For example, in FY 1999, OCR conducted compliance reviews on the following issues:

OCR's Provides Policy Guidance and Technical Assistance

The aim of OCR's policy guidance and technical assistance activities is to educate about civil rights principles and prevent violations of civil rights laws. This includes helping recipients comply with the laws and helping beneficiaries understand their rights. OCR recognizes that our efforts alone are insufficient to eliminate discrimination in education. Students, parents, and educators must have the knowledge and skills to prevent discrimination from initially occurring.

"We appreciate the technical assistance and materials which you have provided as we work with students and staff to address this issue."

Letter from Public School District
acknowledging signed case resolution

OCR provides guidance and assistance to enable institutions to come into compliance during the complaint resolution process or during a compliance review. Written and oral guidance is also provided in response to tens of thousands of inquiries received annually. In addition, OCR engages in a broad range of proactive outreach activities such as on-site consultations, conference sponsorship and participation, training classes, workshops, and community meetings. Specifically, in FY 1999, OCR's efforts to provide guidance and assistance included the following:

How to Contact Us

Many OCR offices have customer service teams that respond to questions from our partners, stakeholders and members of the public. (see Appendix A) OCR also serves the public through its web page at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OCR and its toll free telephone line [1-800-421-3481] that is staffed during business hours, eastern standard time.

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