A new rule change in the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has dismissed hundreds of civil rights complaints considered to be a burden to the office.
The change is among a series of revisions to the office’s procedure manual regarding civil rights cases. This protocol is aimed at cases involving a continuation of a pattern of complaints previously filed with the office.
These serial filings pose administrative difficulties and by eliminating them, the department hopes to streamline the review process as a whole. Civil rights organizations and advocates fear this change will lead to inaction on legitimate complaints to the office.
Liz King, director of education policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the department has proven itself unwilling to provide children and families the justice they are guaranteed under the law.
“We have seen the dismissal of complaints made by transgender students who have experienced unlawful discrimination in school,” she said. “And we know now that the department has said that if someone is pursuing too much justice for too many children, then they will be ignored.”
Children are entitled to as much justice as the law will allow, according to King, and there should be no ceiling on the amount of children whose rights are protected.
“Our first hope is always that schools at the K-12 level and the higher education level do the right thing first so that students do not experience discrimination,” she said. “Our fear is that when discrimination continues, those students and families that pursue justice will be turned down by the Department of Education.”
Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the conservative-leaning John Locke Foundation, said the revision will likely be a positive change and part of a larger trend within the department to reduce the size of the bureaucracy.
“It helps them address the backlog in their dockets and it is a move just to create a bit more of an efficient department,” he said.
King disagrees with this explanation.
“Their desire for expediency cannot come at the cost of the laws and lives of children and their families,” she said.
Stoops said it’s unlikely students in public schools and universities will see any tangible changes as a result of this policy.
“It will really depend on the ability of the existing staff at the Office for Civil Rights to be able to address what complaints they have on their docket,” he said. “My guess is that the typical college student, the typical university may not see any difference and in fact may even see a faster turn around due to a more efficient approach to the complaints that are on their desk.”
Stoops doesn’t think U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is targeting the Office for Civil Rights and said these changes have potential to expand to other parts of the department.
“I think that this is a department-wide effort to streamline a Department of Education that some believe has grown too large to be able to effectively serve the states and the taxpayers,” he said.
King said she hopes students will find ways to make their campuses welcoming for all of the students enrolled there.
“We encourage students to create positive campus climates that prevent the discrimination that students would need to seek remedies for at the Department of Education,” she said.