Monday, May 04, 2015

OCR's Latest Report to the President, the Secretary of Education, and Congress

This week the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released its latest biannual report to the President, Secretary of Education, and Congress summarizing its work in fiscal years 2013 and 2014.  The report addressed OCR's efforts to enforce not only Title IX, but also Title VI (race and national origin discrimination), the Rehabilitation Act (disability discrimination) and other civil rights laws applicable to education.  According to the report, the agency received almost 20,000 complaints in that two-year period, 27% of which addressed sex discrimination. In contrast, disability discrimination takes up almost half of OCR's docket.

Athletics. Complaints about athletics constitute the overwhelming majority of the agency's Title IX-related work, notwithstanding the rising number of sexual assault and harassment complaints that we've seen in recent years.

OCR does not break down its data on athletics complaints to tell us how many came from college versus K-12, but it is probably the case that a vast majority of these complaints challenged athletic disparities at the high school level.  Nor does OCR provide an easy way to compare this data over time.  However, for some context, it is worth noting that the OCR's last report covered a four year period of time (2009-2012) and reported half as many athletics complaints (1,264). The current report provides a number of examples of athletics-related enforcement, including a resolution agreement that it reached with Southeastern Louisiana University in 2014, in which the university agreed to do a better job assessing interests and abilities under prong three and provide women's teams with access to facilities of comparable quality to their men's teams.  It also noted several resolutions with public school districts such as Indianapolis Public Schools. Unfortunately, the report did not provide any insight into OCR's handling of "mass complaints" filed against multiple school districts in a single state, which probably constitute a vast majority of the OCR's 3,609 figure.

Sexual Violence. OCR reported to have resolved 90 complaints involving sexual violence at the K-12 and college level during 2013-14. 25 of those resolutions were by voluntary resolution agreement, which is the agency's preferred way of handling findings of noncompliance.  While most of the illustrative examples OCR describes involve colleges and universities (Tufts and Montana, for example), the agency also took enforcement action against at least one K-12 school district for its failure to prevent and respond to sexual violence and harassment.  

LGBT Discrimination. OCR's report described having resolved two cases, one against a California school district, and another against an unnamed college, in ways that ensured transgender students' rights to be protected from harassment and be allowed to access facilities according to their gender identities.  To my knowledge, this is the first time OCR's report has described Title IX enforcement of this nature. The agency also described more generally a resolution agreement that required a charter school to conduct "age-appropriate student education on sexual harassment and non-conformity with gender stereotypes." 

OCR also briefly noted Title IX enforcement efforts related to pregnancy discrimination and retaliation claims.