8 Civil-Rights Groups Object To O.C.R.'s Operating Plan

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The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and seven other prominent national civil-rights organizations have branded the Education Department's fiscal 1983 operating plan for its office for civil rights as "a fundamentally dishonest document" and "singularly devoid of specific information."

The civil-rights organizations made those claims in a letter to Harry M. Singleton, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, sent on Dec. 3 and released to the public last week.

A spokesman for Mr. Singleton said last week that his office had received the letter and was preparing a response to the groups' comments.

Proposal Questioned

In their letter, the organizations questioned why the proposal, which was unveiled in the Oct. 19 edition of the Federal Register, dropped the words "school segregation" from the civil-rights office's list of issues to be examined in routine compliance reviews and replaced them with "Within district comparability--Discriminatory delivery of services."

"This is a serious shift in OCR priorities," the groups said, adding that the department should be required to "provide justification for ceasing school-segregation reviews."

"Is OCR ceasing these reviews because it believes such activity is impracticable in view of declining resources, or is there some departmental policy that has prevented compliance on this issue?" the groups asked.

Controversial Section

Under another controversial section of the plan, the department's office of civil rights (OCR) would give its 10 regional offices the authority to fashion their own compliance-review programs and to shift resources in order "to better reflect the region's characteristics and civil-rights priorities."

The organizations said that they oppose that proposal because it fails to explain fully to the public the new responsibilities of the regional civil-rights offices.

"On the one hand, we are told that OCR's operations for [the fiscal year 1983] 'will reflect the regions' characteristics and civil-rights priorities; on the other, we are not told what those regional characteristics and priorities are," the groups said. "The obvious question is: What does OCR believe are the regional civil-rights priorities? Why does the [proposal] fail to answer this basic question?"

The groups went on to predict that if OCR fails to provide more guidance to its regional offices and fails to monitor adequately the compliance reviews conducted by the regional offices, the resultant confusion "will create even more extreme variation among regions than now exists, to the point there would be 10 OCR's instead of one."

Current Level of Staffing

The organizations also questioned the civil-right office's assertion in the proposal that President Reagan's fiscal 1983 budget request to the Congress would provide enough funds to maintain the current level of staffing, to conduct compliance reviews and enforcement proceedings, and to provide educational institutions with technical assistance.

That assertion, the groups said, is not only unsupported but "is not true."

Their letter cited a document sent by OCR to the Justice Department in which the office states that it would take an appropriation of $56.9 million in fiscal 1983 to maintain staffing at its current level. However, the groups said, the Reagan Administration has asked the Congress to appropriate only $44.9 million in fiscal 1983 for the department's civil-rights activities.

'Deceiving the Public'

"OCR is deceiving the public by making false statements about its resources," they said. "Such dissembling affects our ability to believe any other statement in the [proposal]."

In addition to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, groups that joined in the letter included: The American Civil Liberties Union; the Center for Law and Education; the Children's Defense Fund; Equal Rights Advocates; the Federal Education Project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; the League of Women Voters of the United States; and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Vol. 02, Issue 14, Page 10

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