The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights just decided to dismiss civil rights cases they deem unnecessary or a burden to the office.
The new protocol allowed investigators to target complaints filed by advocates over similar issues, claiming excessive complaints clog the pipeline, making it difficult for investigators to resolve issues. They claimed such cases exhaust the office’s resources over conflicts that can be resolved otherwise.
Civil rights advocates argued this step is evidence of the education department’s refusal to implement civil rights in institutions.
Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the decision was made after the manual addressing dealing with civil rights cases was revised. She claimed the step would help run the office smoothly.
The changes to the manual include dismissing cases that mirror “a pattern of complaints previously filed with OCR by an individual or a group against multiple recipients” and cases filed for the first time that put “an unreasonable burden on OCR’s resources.”
The provision has already seen OCR dismiss 500 civil rights cases.
The Obama administration’s head for the Office for Civil Rights, Catherine E. Lhamon, said the move goes against everything the office stands for. She said the education department cannot deem cases unnecessary. She said the office must open the case if a law has been violated.
“The thing that scares me is when they get to say ‘we won’t open some cases because it’s too much for us,’ or ‘we don’t like the complainant,’ or ‘it’s not our week to work on that,’ you start to change the character of the office,” Lhamon said.
However, the change has also been praised by some.
Debora L. Osgood, who worked with the office for 25 years, said the move would allow OCR to control its complaint docket. She said the frequent complaints by similar people adversely affected the investigators.
“In effect, it turned over the decision-making about how the agency would use many of its resources to a single individual, rather than to agency officials and staff charged with the responsibility for implementing the agency’s stated mission,” she said.
According to the Education Department, 41 percent of the 16,720 complaints filed in 2016 came from three people. In 2017, the same people filed 23 percent of the 12,837 cases.
With Education Secretary Betsy DeVos already repealing Obama era guidance that protected transgender students and on-campus sexual assault, civil rights group worry about the changes would further expose students to civil rights violations.
Lhamon said rather than refusing to take on cases, the civil rights office should look for ways to manage the large flow of complaints progressively.
“There’s not a limitation on justice, and there’s not a limitation on how we perceive injustice,” Lhamon said. “To say you’ve reached your quota is to say that there’s somehow a cap on the number of children who might be harmed.”
Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts