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

Office for Civil Rights Annual Report to Congress (1999)

OCR Makes A Difference In the Lives of Students

OCR's impact cannot be measured in numbers alone, but it is also important to understand the positive changes that are made in the lives of students across the nation. The examples below provide a brief overview of the real life of OCR efforts.

Boys' and Girls' Sports Teams: A True Win-Win Example

When OCR's New York enforcement office began investigating a complaint alleging sex discrimination in athletics, it learned that only one-third of female high school students were members of interscholastic athletic teams. In addition, only 38 percent of teams were girls' teams. As a result of OCR's work, the city's Board of Education added more than 300 girls' teams, bringing the total number of female high school teams to 1,030 or 45 percent of all teams. As a result of OCR's intervention, the Board also increased the number of boys' teams by 46, bringing their total number to 1,246. It is too soon to tell the exact number of girls who joined these additional teams last fall, but we expect that the number of girls now involved in high school sports will rise. This story is an example of how OCR's activities result in more opportunities for both boys and girls.

Get on the Bus: A Lesson in Sexual Harassment

When a student sexually harassed another elementary school student while on their school bus, the child reported the harassment to her bus driver. The bus driver however took no action. When she and her parents met with the bus company management, the parents believed that their concerns were disregarded. The girl's parents then brought the issue to the school district, but thought the school staff did not take appropriate action. At that point, the girl's father called OCR and requested our intervention. Although, the parents were reluctant to file a complaint because they did not want their daughter to have to endure a formal investigation, OCR spoke with the school officials. After speaking to school officials, the OCR staff was invited to address the responsibilities of teachers, administrators and bus drivers regarding sexual harassment notification. The transportation company sent all of its school bus drivers to this training, regardless of the school district they served. OCR's contributions reduced the chances of a reoccurring incident on another bus or in a different district.

OCR Enters Agreement with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Many African American students enter higher education in Pennsylvania at the community college, rather than university, level. Therefore, an important focus of OCR's partnership with Pennsylvania to remove vestiges of segregation was the agreement under which students may enter any of the its universities with two full years credit toward a bachelor's degree after completing two years work at a community college. Another major thrust of the partnership is the $36.5 million infusion into one of the state's public historically black colleges.

Other campuses throughout Pennsylvania have also been affected by this partnership. At Penn State, such areas as community policing, discussion forums, and academic assistance are being designed to make the campus more welcoming to African American and other minority students. Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh, along with Penn State University, are stepping up recruitment and support programs for their African American students. In all, 33 colleges and universities were affected by OCR's partnership with the Commonwealth, and more than 12,000 African American students now enrolled.

Adequate Teaching Levels for English-Language Learners

Teacher with  StudentsA parent filed a complaint with OCR against a school district that has thousands of English language learners. When OCR began its investigation, staff found that there were only 16 teachers and four paraprofessionals trained into serve these students. OCR's intervention resulted in the school district hiring 90 additional capable teachers and 81 para-professionals. Because the teachers and teaching assistants were new hires and their status may have been jeopardized by possible layoffs, OCR worked with the school district and its teachers' union to amend their procedures so that alternative program staffing levels would remain adequate even in the case of layoffs. In addition, OCR and the school district collaboratively developed a tuition reimbursement program to encourage teachers to earn specialized certification to teach in alternative language programs. In 1999, 41 teaching staff were working toward this goal through the new tuition reimbursement program.

OCR Provides Support for Mother's Concerns

A mother of two children enrolled in special education programs filed a complaint with OCR alleging that the State's Department of Education was providing inadequate services to both of her children. The mother also alleged that school officials wrongfully disciplined one of her children and failed to provide him with appropriate education services. Upon investigation, OCR found that neither child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) had been properly implemented by the state's Department of Education, which agreed to redress its inaction and compensate for the services missed. OCR investigators also compared tone child's disciplinary punishment to that given to others who had misbehaved, and determined that the Board indeed had retaliated against the child. Education officials agreed to expunge the student's record of disciplinary incidents for the year, and agreed to treat students equitably in the future.

In addition, OCR found that officials had retaliated against the students' mother, including making comments critical of her to other parents. The state Department of Education sent her a letter of apology, advised its staff of the inappropriateness of their actions and-most importantly, because OCR found that many families feared retaliation-notified the community, including parents and students, that staff would not retaliate against them.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A junior high school student with disabilities filed a complaint with OCR saying that his photograph, as well as those of other disabled students, was segregated in the school's yearbook. The yearbook placed the pictures of disabled students in a different location from the photos of other students. OCR contacted the district, which agreed to integrate photos of students with disabilities along with other student photos.

English Language Learners Get Much Needed Assistance From School District

OCR staff learned that in a western school district that had 1,272 English language learners out of 13,000 students, most of the district's English language learners were instructed by teachers who were only minimally qualified or who were teacher assistants. More than half of the students received no alternative language program. In addition, students were being evaluated with instruments that required knowledge of English- and, not surprisingly, many were inappropriately classified and placed in special education programs that did not offer an alternative language program.

OCR's intervention resulted in significant changes, including training on the requirements of an alternative language program, to dozens of teachers and administrators. In response, the school district made immediate and positive changes. Specialized teachers in English-as- a-second-language were hired and child assessment teams were deployed at each school to review each student's assessment, placement and education needs. OCR has continued to monitor and review schools throughout the District and has kept in communication with its administrators. Last August, a reworked plan was approved that provides additional services to students whose first language is not English.

Different Treatment of African American and Hispanic Students

A former administrator lodged a complaint alleging that a district high school channels African American and Hispanic students who are identified as potential dropouts into GED and evening high school programs. The complainant also alleged that the school's academic honors program was disproportionately white. Investigators from OCR were able to verify all of these allegations.

As a result of OCR's activities, the school district agreed that it would evaluate its admission standards for the honors program. In addition, the school district agreed to work towards alleviating the opportunity for any racial or ethnic bias in referring students to GED and evening programs.

Doubling Minority Students in Gifted and Talented Programs

In a southwestern state, OCR staff noted that a low proportion of Native American and Hispanic elementary and high school students were in programs for gifted and talented students. In one particular school district with a predominantly Hispanic student body, the school demonstrated that minority students could qualify for gifted programs when teachers use a variety of methods in addition to standardized I.Q. tests as the criteria for eligibility. OCR collaborated with the school district to broaden its admissions criteria from only using a standardized IQ score to using multiple criteria. As a result, the proportion of Hispanic students in gifted and talented programs doubled. In 2000, OCR will continue working with the school, the state and local officials to develop a demonstration project for school districts throughout the state.

Discipline of Black Male Students

In a school district in the South, a principal disciplined six African American high school students by tying them together and parading them around the school grounds.

OCR investigators determined that the students were punished differently and inappropriately on the basis of their race. School district administrators agreed to remedy the principal's wrong-doing against the students by giving them psychological help and counseling, as well as reprimanding the principal in a letter placed in her personnel file. In addition, OCR addressed the incident school-wide, by having the school district develop and publish appropriate disciplinary policies, and requiring its staff to participate in workshops on race, color and national origin discrimination. OCR will monitor the school's disciplinary actions to ensure that its commitments are met.

School District Receives Federal Refugee Funding

"Your office helped me to receive appropriate accommodations in law school. Last August I took the bar exam. In November I learned that I passed and [in December] I was sworn into the [state] bar. This would not have happened without your office's help."

May 12, 1999, Letter from Disabled
Former Law Student

A former teacher filed a complaint with OCR against a school district, saying that it under-served English-language learners. The changes the district made, with OCR's assistance, included: appropriate identification and assessment of English language learners, placing them in appropriate programs, and monitoring them to make sure their transition to other programs was successful. These changes prompted a federal agency that supports refugee relocation to give the school district additional funding for its language-assistance program.

Working to Keep Special Education for Those With Special Needs

OCR completed monitoring a western school district that had been placing a disproportionate number of African American students in special education classes. OCR's resolution agreement with the district provided for development of a pre-referral intervention process to assist students experiencing difficulties in a regular classroom setting. The agreement with OCR also revised referral procedures for special education evaluation to ensure consideration of the impact of education and medical history as well as environmental, cultural and economic factors. Since entering the agreement with OCR, the number of African American students classified as learning disabled (LD) decreased from 221 to 161. As a result of OCR's intervention, the district reports that 89% of the African American students classified as LD and 46% of those classified as mentally disabled are now being educated in a regular setting. Overall, 80% of students with disabilities now receive their educational services through full-day inclusion in the regular classroom with supplementary aids and services. The District continues to engage in a strong staff training efforts and ongoing self-evaluation to identify any remaining areas of concern.

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