Agency Spotlight: U.S. Department of Education
Agency Spotlight: U.S. Department of Education
A Message from Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights,
U.S. Department of Education
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education enforces federal civil rights laws to protect students from discrimination and to ensure they are afforded equitable educational opportunities, from preschool through completion of postsecondary education. The unfortunate reality is that, despite substantial progress, too many students still lack meaningful access to a quality education, too often because of discriminatory barriers in their educational environments. My terrific staff and I come to work every day with the goal of ensuring that no student is deprived an opportunity because of his or her race, sex, or disability.
Our enforcement of federal civil rights laws has been robust. In fiscal year 2016, we received a record number of complaints – approximately 15,500, including some 2,400 complaints that implicate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We are currently investigating more than 3,600 cases (including approximately 1,100 under Title VI) and monitoring 2,300 more (500 under Title VI). We have resolved some 8,300 cases in 2016, with approximately 750 resulting in resolution agreements. Examples of our Title VI enforcement, highlighted in this and previous newsletters, include resolution of cases involving the Lodi Unified School District (go.usa.gov/xKzYu), ending the racially discriminatory impact and application of the district’s discipline policies; the Arizona Department of Education (go.usa.gov/xKzYS), together with the DOJ, ensuring that English Learners are properly identified and provided with appropriate services; and the Toledo Public Schools (go.usa.gov/xKzYh), to ensure that the district provides equitable resources to black students.
In June, we released the 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection (go.usa.gov/xKzgq), which includes data on education barriers and opportunity gaps in nearly 100,000 schools nationwide, showing that, among other findings:
- In kindergarten through the 12th grade, black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended as are white students. Black students also are nearly twice as likely to be expelled—removed from school with no services—as are white students.
- English learners have disproportionately low participation rates in Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs: while English learners are 11% of all students in schools offering GATE programs, fewer than 3% of GATE students nationwide are English learners.
- Eleven percent of black students, 9% of Latino students and 7% of American Indian or Alaska Native students attend schools where more than 20% of teachers are in their first year of teaching, compared to 5% of white students.
Over the course of fiscal year 2016, OCR has been fortunate to work with other federal agencies and the White House to continue to break down discriminatory barriers and widen the door of opportunity for more students. Our Title VI work includes, for example, joining the DOJ in announcing a new interagency community engagement initiative to challenge religious discrimination and enhance enforcement of religion-based hate crimes; providing resources to assist states, schools and local law enforcement agencies in assessing the proper role of school resource officers and campus police; and working with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, issuing a fact sheet that includes examples of forms of discrimination that members of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander and Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian communities commonly face. We have also worked with other agencies (including the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Health and Human Services) on initiatives focused on fostering racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools and communities and supporting dual language learners in early childhood programs.
We are proud to work with our sister agencies to protect the civil rights of students nationwide. For more information on our work, please visit ed.gov/ocr.
During July through mid-September 2016, OCR received approximately 310 complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. During that same period, OCR resolved 13 cases involving Title VI issues with resolution agreements. Additionally, from June to August, OCR provided 15 technical assistance presentations on Title VI obligations and enforcement.
Title VI Enforcement Activities
On August 24, OCR entered into a resolution agreement with the Lodi Unified School District in Lodi, California to end the racially discriminatory impact of the district’s discipline policies and address concerns that it disciplines black students more harshly than white students.
OCR found that Lodi’s discipline policy, while neutral on its face and not adopted with discriminatory intent, had a disproportionate impact on black students and was not necessary to meet the district’s educational goals, thereby violating Title VI. Specifically, the district permitted individual schools to develop and impose different consequences for discipline incidents than described in the district’s Conduct Code.
These school site deviations not only undermine Lodi’s stated educational goal of consistency in discipline practices, but also permit district-wide disparities in discipline practices for black students in contrast with white students. Schools with higher percentages of black students established harsher punishment for discipline incidents and black students received disproportionately higher levels of discipline than white students.
OCR found that black students were overrepresented at almost every level of discipline to a statistically significant degree – from referral to in-school-suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion, and citation – every year analyzed, including each of the four school-years from 2011 to 2015.
Events and Convenings
In September, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. boarded the bus for the Administration’s final Back to School bus tour (go.usa.gov/xKzgT), titled “Opportunity Across America” of the American Southeast. Over five days, Secretary King and senior Department officials held 13 events in 11 cities and six states, speaking on a variety of issues, including language access, classroom diversity, access to education, and school discipline. Additionally, senior Department officials travelled across the country (go.usa.gov/xKzgD) for events on similar themes. The tour web site (go.usa.gov/xKzgj) has many stories, pictures, and videos chronicling the tour, and the Department posted on the social journalism blog, Medium, a series of fact sheets highlighting the nation’s educational progress over the last eight years. The fact sheets, with infographics, cover:
- “Quality Preschool: Providing Every Child with a Strong Start”
- “Protecting Students’ Civil Rights”
- “Advancing Opportunity and Success in Elementary and Secondary Schools”
- “Connecting America’s Classrooms”
- “Expanding Equity and Opportunity through Strong Student Supports”
- “Making Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education a National Priority”
- “Elevating the Teaching Profession and Supporting Educators”
- “Increasing Postsecondary Access, Affordability, and Completion”
Trauma-Informed Approaches in School: Supporting Girls of Color and Rethinking Discipline:
On September 19, the White House Council on Women and Girls, U.S. Department of Education, and Georgetown University Law Center on Poverty and Inequality hosted a conference at the White House called, “Trauma-Informed Approaches in School: Supporting Girls of Color and Rethinking Discipline” (go.usa.gov/xKzg8) where Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon, among others, gave remarks on improving school systems’ approach to better serve girls of color who have experienced trauma. Despite progress made over recent years in academic achievement, access and school support, girls, and particularly girls of color, continue to disproportionately face barriers in education. The conference brought together state and district teams, key researchers and experts, nonprofit partners, community organizers, and Administration officials who share a commitment to promoting policies and practices, such as Title VI enforcement, that support the needs and potential of underserved populations, including marginalized girls, young women, and their families.
Policy, Publications and Other Information
On September 23, the Department released non-regulatory guidance (go.usa.gov/xKz4C) to help states, districts, and schools provide effective services to improve the English language proficiency and academic achievement of English Learners (ELs) through Title III of the Every Student Succeeds Act. This guidance is an effort to ensure that students who are English learners receive the high-quality services they need to be college and career ready. Among other topics, the guidance touches upon: use of Title III funds to serve ELs; design and delivery of language instruction educational programs - which include educators of ELs; information on parent, family, and community engagement; information on distinct populations of ELs, including early learners, former ELs, immigrant students, and ELs who are also students with disabilities; and publications and resources for administrators and educators who work with ELs. The guidance clarifies that all services provided to ELs using Title III funds must supplement, and not supplant, the services that must be provided to ELs under Title VI.
On September 9, to assist states, schools, and their law enforcement partners in assessing the proper role of school resource officers (SROs) and campus law enforcement professionals, both the U.S. Department of Education and the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services released letters to states and districts (go.usa.gov/xKzgu) emphasizing the importance of well-designed SRO programs and calling on leaders of institutions of higher education to commit to implementing recommendations from the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing (go.usa.gov/xKzgJ) in the campus policing context.
To assist in the K-12 context, the Departments also jointly released the Safe School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (SECURe) Rubrics (go.usa.gov/xKzgS). These new resources can help education and law enforcement agencies that use SROs to review and, if necessary, revise SRO-related policies in alignment with common-sense action steps that can lead to improved school safety and better outcomes for students while safeguarding their civil rights. These resources also serve to remind school leaders, campus police, and SROs to comply with nondiscrimination laws including Title VI.
- Campus letter from Education (go.usa.gov/xKzgh)
- P-12 letter from Education (go.usa.gov/xKz4q)
- Campus letter from DOJ (go.usa.gov/xKz43)
- P-12 letter from DOJ (go.usa.gov/xKz4c)
On July 22, OCR announced a series of actions to confront discrimination and promote inclusive school environments, including unveiling a new web page on religious discrimination (go.usa.gov/xKzgE), updating its online civil rights complaint form (ocrcas.ed.gov/cas.cfm) to clarify when OCR can investigate complaints of discrimination involving religion, and expanding its survey of public schools (ocrdata.ed.gov) on religious-based bullying (press release at go.usa.gov/xKzgd and blog post at go.usa.gov/xKzgv). The new web page has information about federal laws, including Title VI, that protect students from discrimination involving their religion or national origin, and links to OCR policy guidance, notable case resolutions, and resources in multiple languages and from other federal agencies.
OCR’s updated online complaint form clarifies that the office can investigate complaints regarding racial, ethnic or national origin discrimination involving religion and reaffirms that students, parents, and persons of all faiths can file such complaints with OCR even though the laws OCR enforces do not expressly address religious discrimination in education. Additionally, OCR will start collecting, through its Civil Rights Data Collection (ocrdata.ed.gov), information from every public school across the country, for the first time, on the number of incidents of religious-based bullying or harassment in their schools in the 2015-16 school year. This new collection will give stakeholders, policymakers, and educators critical data that will allow them to further understand the problem of religious discrimination and to measure progress going forward.
Further, in response to "an increasing number of incidents of anti-Semitic bullying and harassment in public schools . . . [and] reports documenting that students who are or are perceived as Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian, or Southeast Asian are frequent targets of bullying and harassment," the Department adopted new regulations (go.usa.gov/xKzgw) for its Equity Assistance Centers (EACs) that will enable them, starting in October, to provide technical assistance, on request, to public school districts, students and parents, and community organizations about religious discrimination and harassment (go.usa.gov/xKzgf). A press release is available at go.usa.gov/xKzgU.
"More than ever before, today's students need to be prepared to succeed in a diverse, global workforce. Diversity benefits communities, schools and students from all backgrounds, and research has shown that more diverse organizations make better decisions with better results. It is no surprise, then, that CEOs, university presidents, the military and other leaders have expressed a strong interest in increasing diversity. I am pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas at Austin's admissions plan. The Department will continue to be a strong supporter of diversity and will work to ensure that all students benefit from school environments as diverse as America itself. As a nation, we are stronger together." A link to the press release is available at go.usa.gov/xKzgn.
For more information on the Fisher decision and Title VI enforcement, please view the Fisher Note in the Summer Issue of the Title VI Newsletter at go.usa.gov/xkG3R.