AN OCR UPDATE: THE FIRST FOUR MONTHS
May 27, 2021
In these first months of the Biden-Harris Administration, all of us in the Office for Civil Rights have focused steadily and urgently on ensuring equity and equal opportunity for all students—in K-12 and higher education—throughout the country. I want to take this moment to share some of the first steps we’ve taken, as they help to set the foundation for the work that lies ahead.
Ensuring Civil-Rights Protections During School Reopening
Perhaps no issue is more pressing in education today than COVID-19 and its effects on students, families, and schools. Safeguarding civil rights and equal opportunity is central to our national response, and OCR continues to receive and respond to discrimination complaints from students and their parents and guardians. In addition, OCR’s work includes:
Providing Guidance on Civil Rights Issues Related to COVID-19. In May, OCR published Questions and Answers on Civil Rights and School Reopening in the COVID-19 Environment, a resource to help students, families, schools and the public support all students’ rights in educational environments in K-12 and postsecondary institutions.
Ensuring Collection of Critical Civil Rights Data During the Pandemic. We know that data will be critical to understanding the disparities in students’ opportunities and experiences during the pandemic. In April, OCR updated all school districts about the 2020-21 Civil Rights Data Collection, including new assistance for schools operating remotely. I encourage you to explore the CRDC website if you’re not already familiar with this remarkable data collection.
Examining the Disparate Impacts of the Pandemic. OCR is hard at work on a report on the pandemic’s disparate impacts on students, responding to President Biden’s Executive Order on Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers. We look forward to sharing more on our findings soon.
Advancing Equity in Educational Settings
Across the Department of Education, we are working to build on and implement the President’s Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. In OCR, equity is central to our mission, including in these early steps:
Hosting a Virtual Convening to Examine Disparities in School Discipline and the Pursuit of Safe and Inclusive Schools. In May, OCR and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division gathered students, educators and researchers for an extensive public conversation on strategies for addressing racial and other disparities in the administration of school discipline. Speakers highlighted the impact of exclusionary school discipline, such as suspensions and school-based arrests, on our nation’s students, particularly students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQI+ students. Check back soon for video of the convening.
Providing resources on COVID-19-related Harassment in School. Also in May, OCR and the Department of Justice released a resource for students and families with information on schools’ obligations to address discrimination, including harassment, targeting students because of their race or national origin. This resource is available in Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Burmese, Hakha Chin, Japanese, Karen, Khmer, Lao, and Thai. OCR also released a Dear Educator Letter reminding schools of their obligations to investigate and address all forms of harassment in educational environments, including harassment directed toward AAPI students. These efforts build on President Biden’s Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
Protecting Students from Sex Discrimination
OCR’s action plan to fulfill President Biden’s Executive Order on Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on the Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity can be found in our early April letter to students, educators and other stakeholders. Next steps include:
Convening a Virtual Public Hearing on Title IX: June 7-11, 2021. OCR looks forward to a wide array of comments and suggestions on steps the Department can take to ensure that all school environments are free from sexual harassment, including sexual violence, and that students who have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity have their rights fully met. Please see our hearing notice and the hearing website for more information.
Forthcoming Q&A. In the coming months, OCR plans to issue a Q&A resource to provide additional clarity about how OCR interprets schools’ existing obligations under Title IX.
Anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. After hearing from the public and completing review of the Department’s current Title IX regulations and other agency actions, OCR anticipates giving public notice of a rulemaking process to amend the Department’s Title IX regulations.
Addressing Discrimination against Students Based on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation. OCR’s upcoming public hearing on Title IX also responds directly to President Biden’s Executive Order 13988 on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, which makes clear that “children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.” More to come soon on OCR’s other steps to protect all students, including LGBTQ+ students.
Ensuring equal opportunity for all students depends on all of us, and I thank you for your partnership in these efforts as we work toward a shared future of equal opportunity for all of America’s students.
Suzanne B. Goldberg
Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Operations and Outreach
Office for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Education