Report: Ed Dept more lenient on OCR investigations, closes 1,200 due to insufficient evidence
- Looking at over 40,000 civil rights cases gathered via a number of public records requests, ProPublica found that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) under the Trump administration has ended over 1,200 civil rights investigations that started during the Obama administration over incidents ranging from discriminatory discipline to sexual violence, at both the K-12 and higher education levels, due to insufficient evidence.
- Department of Education Spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill told ProPublica that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is still committed to enforcing civil rights. Cases are closed, she said, when there's insufficient evidence to prove the law was violated or dismissal is found to be appropriate on other grounds, that doing so provides closure to the parties involved, and that the current administration had returned OCR investigators to positions of being "neutral fact-finders."
- Additionally, the data shows the OCR as being more lenient under Secretary Betsy DeVos, with 51% of cases taking over 180 days during the Obama administration's final 15 months ending in findings of violations or corrective changes, compared to 35% during the Trump administration's first 15 months. The Trump administration is also said to be limiting the scope of investigations to individuals rather than potential systemic issues.
The department's intention to scale back OCR investigations has been known since June of last year. At the time, civil rights leaders expressed concern that such an approach would weaken the investigations and prioritize efficiency over rigor. And according to Politico, emphasis has, indeed, been placed on "individual complaints that can be handled quickly."
During a May House committee hearing, DeVos was reportedly taken to task for not knowing the OCR's mission offhand, and the investigation rollbacks have also resulted in a lawsuit from the National Federation of the Blind, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Additional civil rights concerns with the current Education Department have included plans to rescind Obama-era guidance designed to protect students of color from disproportionate disciplinary measures, the rollback of 72 special education guidance documents, and stumbles regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act during DeVos' confirmation hearings last year.
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