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Equity & Diversity

Annual Civil Rights Complaints to Ed. Dept. More Than Doubled Since 2008

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 08, 2016 3 min read
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The number of annual complaints to the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights more than doubled since the start of President Barack Obama’s administration, increasing from 6,364 in fiscal 2009 to 16,720 in fiscal 2016.

That’s according to a report released Thursday by the Education Department highlighting the work of the civil rights office during the Obama administration. It also notes the ongoing civil rights issues the department sees in schools, for the office ranging from teacher and staffing inequities in schools, to chronic absenteeism and racial disparities in school discipline policies.

The office has attracted a lot of friends and critics in the Obama years, and it might be about to undergo a major shift—more on that below.

“Securing Equal Educational Opportunity” is a report for the president and secretary of education by the office for civil rights, which earlier this year released its data collection on schools for the 2013-14 school year on over 97,000 public schools and 50 million students. We covered the release of that civil rights data collection extensively back in June.

The new report highlights data-collection findings, including that:

  • Black preschool children are 3.6 times more likely to get one or more out-of-school suspensions as white preschool children;
  • Over 3 million high school students, or 19 percent of high schoolers, are chronically absent;
  • Students of color are more likely than white students to be in schools where over 20 percent of teachers are in their first year on the job.

That data collection is one of the primary responsibilies the office highlights in its report. The office also reported that during the eight years of the Obama administration, the office received 76,000 complaints and resolved 66,000 of them. In addition, the department says it’s monitored 2,000 resolved cases annually to ensure compliance.

“We thank our school communities for palpable progress toward realizing the promises Congress has made decade after decade to our nation’s students that their educational experiences should be fundamentally equal,” Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said in a statement. “Our investigations confirm [the] ongoing need to safeguard those rights, as well as daily commitment from educators across the country to our core democratic value of fairness.”

The report also examines the nature of complaints it received under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which bars discrimination based on race or national origin) and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination. Below, for example, is a breakdown of the various types of Title VI complaints in fiscal 2016:

Not everyone will be sorry to see the department’s office for civil rights get new management once President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month. Republican members of Congress and others have been highly critical of the department’s guidance to school districts regarding the rights of transgender students. And some have also criticized the office’s approach to racial disparities in school discipline, saying it it intrudes too much on classroom and school operations.

We recently checked in on the department’s office for civil rights to highlight its current budget and staffing levels as well as its caseload. And Trump’s administration could bring quite a different approach to civil rights complaints, investigations, and other issues facing the office and the Education Department. It’s unclear where Betsy DeVos, a school choice advocate and Trump’s nominee to be education secretary, stands on several controversial civil rights issues.

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