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E.D. Said Lax in Enforcing Vocational Anti-Bias Laws

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Washington--The Education Department has not fully assumed its legal responsibility for ensuring that the states enforce anti-discrimination guidelines in federally funded vocational-education programs, charges a study released last week by the Federal Education Project of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The study, conducted over a two-year period, contends that the department's office for civil rights has not provided adequate supervision of state monitoring efforts. As a result, the report notes, the states have little incentive for preventing and eliminating discrimination in vocational-education programs.

Under guidelines promulgated in 1979, states are required to develop a plan for monitoring schools' compliance with federal civil-rights laws.

Lack of Enforcement

The study, however, notes that the state plans, which are called "methods of administration," initially contained "errors, omissions, and inconsistencies," in comparison with the federal guidelines, that ''severely limited" the efficiency of state enforcement efforts early in the program.

The study found that, although there had been progress in some states, in many others, the office for civil rights "took no formal enforcement action even when there was no improvement" in state monitoring procedures.

Complaint Filed

Earlier this year, for example, representatives of several civil-rights organizations asked the Education Department to withhold its approval of future federal vocational-education funds targeted for California until the state had met the anti-discrimination guidelines. (See Education Week, Jan. 18, 1984.)

The organizations charged that the California Department of Education and the Office of the Chancellor of California Community Colleges had "failed to carry out their enforcement plans" as required under an agreement reached with federal officials in 1980. The agreement called for state officials to conduct annual on-site reviews of vocational-education grant recipients at secondary and postsecondary schools and to collect data on student enrollment and staffing in the funded programs.

The office for civil rights has been investigating the organizations' complaints and is now in the process of negotiating with the state agencies to correct the problems.

In the civil-rights study, the researchers contend that if the Education Department were to provide the necessary training, guidance, policy clarification, leadership, and support to the states, the present monitoring and enforcement system might be able to eliminate discrimination and bias from vocational-education programs.

Current Efforts Flawed

But the study states: "To date, the federal government's monitoring and supervision of the vocational education [methods of administration] has been poorly planned, chaotically implemented, and largely ineffectual."

The problem has been perpetuated, the researchers argue, because the ocr has refused to formulate clear policy and communicate it to the appropriate state agencies.

"Its own staff training has been meager or nonexistent," the researchers contend, "and ocr regional offices are not consistent in interpreting federal requirements" that apply to vocational education when they conduct reviews and investigate complaints. --sgf

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