May 23, 2018

Van Hollen Presses DeVos As Dept. of Ed. Weakens Discrimination Protections

Earlier this year, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released a new Case Processing Manual that makes it easier for the Department of Education to dismiss discrimination complaints. In a bicameral letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Senator Van Hollen and members of Congress asked for clarifications on changes in policy and reaffirmed the importance of equal protections against discrimination for all Americans.
“We are writing to express our serious concerns with the dismissal of more than 500 disability rights complaints by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). These dismissals are the result of OCR’s new protocol for addressing complaints as outlined in the recently updated Case Processing Manual,” wrote the members of Congress. “We fear this standard may be used to dismantle students’ civil rights throughout the Department. Based on an efficiency rationale, a future administration could fiscally starve OCR and argue that only limited responses to civil rights violations would be investigated, resulting in OCR abandoning the very intent behind its creation. In fact, the current administration is moving dangerously close to such a position.”
Specifically, the changes enable OCR to dismiss a wider range of complaints without conducting an investigation into school systems or institutions. The Manual permits the dismissal of complaints filed by mass filers, often advocates of students with disabilities who are better trained to read the law and identify systemic violations. OCR rationalizes these changes as a means to alleviate the over-burdened office. However, the current Administration has undermined OCR by scaling back full-time staff, requesting cuts to OCR’s budget and adding to the workload by reopening cases.
A copy of the letter can be found here.
In addition to Senator Van Hollen, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernard Sanders (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ),  Gary Peters (D-MI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Tina Smith (D-MN) and U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1), Mark Takano (D-CA-41), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA-11) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE).