Today, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a report describing OCR's progress and activity over the last four years on civil rights enforcement and educational equity.
The report, "Helping to Ensure Equal Access to Education," describes how OCR has transformed its enforcement approach to better promote and advance educational equity for all students, while maximizing the office's efficiency and impact, even as the number of complaints received by OCR has grown by almost a quarter over the last four years. OCR both received and resolved over 28,500 complaints during this time period, a record figure compared to past four-year periods.
The report also discusses OCR's work to:
- support the equal rights of students to a safe school environment and to resources and programs they need to be prepared for college and careers;
- revamp the Civil Rights Data Collection to provide educators and the public with a clearer picture of the "equity health" of schools; and
- align its efforts with President Obama's goal of restoring this nation's position as a global leader in the proportion of college graduates by 2020, by improving educational equity and excellence.
"OCR's work over the last four years has moved us closer to equal access and opportunity for all students, no matter what their race, sex or disability status," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "The OCR team has accomplished a lot through its innovation and its passion for equity."
In addition to investigating resolving complaints, OCR has protected students' civil rights by launching over 100 proactive, systemic investigations at schools and colleges across the country. In both its complaints and its proactive investigations, OCR has placed a priority on developing robust remedies that attack discrimination at its roots.
OCR has also catalyzed improved compliance across the education community by issuing groundbreaking policy guidance on questions regarding the civil rights laws OCR enforces, such as the obligations of schools and colleges to prevent and address bullying, harassment and sexual violence; the equal rights of all students to a public education regardless of their race, national origin or citizenship status or that of their parents; and the obligation of schools and colleges to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the new technologies that are playing an increased role in classrooms.
The report also documents a range of systemic improvements OCR has made in how it operates, and highlights the impact of those improvements by describing numerous important cases OCR has resolved during the last four years.
"We have transformed our approach to enforcement to make it more targeted and efficient, while fielding more complaints than ever before. We've revamped our technical assistance, and expanded our outreach to new heights," said Assistant Secretary Russlynn Ali. "Removing barriers to equal educational opportunity will help ensure all students have a fair chance at a good educationa goal that is not just a moral imperative, but an economic necessity as well."
Today's report fulfills a requirement of Section 203(b) of the Department of Education Organization Act of 1979, Pub. L. No. 96-88, which provides that the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights shall make a report to the Secretary and the President "summarizing the compliance and enforcement activities of the Office for Civil Rights and identifying significant civil rights or compliance problems as to which such Office has made a recommendation for corrective action and as to which, in the judgment of the Assistant Secretary, adequate progress is not being made."
The mission of the Office for Civil Rights, which comprises nearly 600 staff located in a headquarters office in Washington, D.C., and 12 regional offices around the nation, is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. Among the federal civil rights laws OCR is responsible for enforcing are Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.