Civil Rights Reports Spotlight Eight Years of Accomplishments, Lingering Challenges

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Civil Rights Reports Spotlight Eight Years of Accomplishments, Lingering Challenges

December 8, 2016

Protecting our students’ civil rights is fundamental to ensuring they receive a high-quality education. Two reports released today spotlight the challenges and achievements of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

According to OCR’s FY 2016 annual report, the number of complaints filed last fiscal year skyrocketed to a record 16,720 at a time when OCR’s staffing levels remained at a near all-time low. Still, OCR has resolved more than 66,000 civil rights cases during the Obama Administration, according to a second narrative describingprogress made toward educational equity through strong civil rights enforcement from 2009-2016.

The Department released the new reports during an event with U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., former Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon, as well as Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

“Much progress has been made in the past eight years, but much work remains to ensure all children enjoy equitable access to excellence in American education,” said U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. “These two reports highlight the ongoing vital necessity of OCR’s work to eliminate discriminatory barriers to educational opportunity so our nation’s students may realize their full potential.”

Lhamon added, “We thank our school communities for palpable progress toward realizing the promises Congress has made decade after decade to our nation’s students that their educational experiences should be fundamentally equal.  Our investigations confirm ongoing need to safeguard those rights, as well as daily commitment from educators across the country to our core democratic value of fairness.  We celebrate student victories and continue to stand ready to safeguard rights of students who need us.”

Over the last eight years, one of the Obama Administration’s highest priorities has been to protect the access of all students to a world-class education. As a result, the Department and OCR have seen significant progress in increasing educational equity nationwide and reducing discriminatory barriers that students face.

From FY 2009 to 2016, OCR:

  • Received 76,022 complaints, with each year breaking the previous year’s record of complaint receipts;
  • Resolved 66,102 cases;
  • Proactively initiated 204 investigations known as compliance reviews;
  • Issued 34 policy guidance documents;
  • Monitored, on average, about 2,000 resolved cases per year to ensure compliance with resolution agreements; and,
  • Conducted three major national, state, school- and district-level Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) surveys.

The FY 2016 annual report details the work of OCR over the past year to secure equal educational opportunity by conducting investigations, monitoring schools under resolution agreements, providing technical assistance and administering the CRDC. In FY 2016, complaint vol­ume increased to a record-high 16,720 complaints – a jump of more than 10,000 over the 6,364 complaints in FY 2009. During this same period, OCR resolved 8,625 cases overall - including 1,116 resolutions that secured changes protective of students’ civil rights in schools around the nation – and initiated 13 proactive compliance reviews, despite a near record-low of 563 full-time employees. By contrast, OCR had about 1,100 staff in 1981.

Additionally, OCR released the latest Civil Rights Data Collection and, for the first time, made available the 2013-14 CRDC database for direct download by the public.

OCR also developed and released five policy guidance documents in FY 2016 and hosted 72 policy-related listening sessions with stakeholders on a variety of topics. Notable cases and their resolutions are described in both reports, including cases related to equitable access to courses and educational opportunities, racial harassment, equal opportunity for English learners, bullying and harassment, accessible technology for students with disabilities, and sexual harassment and violence.

For more information on the work of OCR, please visit the office’s home page or its Reading Room which features policy documents, case resolutions, manuals, reports, religious exemptions and other materials.