The Education Dept’s (DoEd) Office for Civil Rights release the 2015 annual report highlighting efforts during the last year to protect students’ civil rights and increase educational equity nationwide. The department received a record number of civil rights complaints last year.
The report, Delivering Justice, cites examples of OCR’s enforcement activities in 2015, including processing of a record 10,392 civil rights complaints, opening more than 3,000 investigations, and reaching more than 1,000 substantive resolutions with institutions that included remedies or changes designed to protect students’ civil rights.
“OCR’s work over the last year has been absolutely pivotal to advancing the Department’s goal to increase equity and opportunity for all students,” said DoEd Secretary John King. “Through our guidance, technical assistance, data collection, and investigatory work, the Department’s message to the public is clear: We are committed to working with and supporting schools to protect students’ civil rights — and we will take action to secure those rights when necessary.”
The report describes how OCR’s complaint volume has nearly doubled in the past decade – even as its staffing level has decreased by 15% since 2005, reaching an all-time low last year.
Notable cases are profiled in the report, including some 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.
FY 2015, OCR received 40 complaints and resolved 23 complaints related to student access to resources, curricula, and opportunities that foster college and career readiness under Title VI.
For example, the OCR resolved a complaint against the South Orange-Maplewood School District (NJ) after concerns arose about the significant and disproportionate underrepresentation of black students in the math enrichment program, middle school honors, advanced honors and accelerated mathematics courses, and high school Advanced Placement (AP) courses. During the course of the investigation, OCR conducted interviews of district staff and clarified how the district’s elementary, middle, and high school staff implemented the district’s educational achievement placement policy and how students’ achievement in lower grades affected their placement in various levels of courses in the middle and high schools. OCR’s investigation also identified concerns related to the statistically significant underrepresentation of students of color in AP and other accelerated courses.
For example, in the 2012- 2013 school year, black students made up about 19% of the district’s AP enrollment, while they represented about 52% of the district’s high school enrollment. The district agreed to conduct a review and self-assessment of its current programs and courses offered at all school levels to identify any potential barriers to black students’ participation; survey students, parents/guardians, and staff to gain information that could help the district equalize access to its high-rigor courses; and hire a consultant with expertise in addressing the underrepresentation of black students in college and career preparatory programs and courses in high school.
In the Arlington Independent School District (TX), OCR resolved an investigation of whether the district discriminated against black and Latino students on the basis of race or national origin with respect to providing equal access to, and equal opportunity to participate in, college and career preparatory programs and courses, including the district’s Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and other high-level and career-building learning opportunities.
OCR also examined whether discrimination occurred regarding access to foundation courses that are essential to prepare students to take rigorous courses in high school and to provide them with the skills necessary for success in college and their careers. OCR identified several possible barriers to enrollment of black and Latino students in these courses, including the publication of enrollment criteria, which negated the characterization by district officials of the college and career preparatory programs as having “open” enrollment; the fact that not all students were aware of the district’s IB program; and the need to take prerequisite courses for AP course enrollment as early as junior high school.
To address these issues, the district agreed to develop a comprehensive districtwide plan for ensuring equal opportunity to enroll in college and career preparatory courses, including AP, IB, dual credit, and other higher-level learning opportunities, as well as in any other advanced academic activities and courses and programs; review and assess any potential barriers to such programs.
Info: http://tinyurl.com/jop3tqv (for the report).