The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) received nearly 7,000 complaints this fiscal year, an 11% increase and the largest jump in at least 10 years, according to data provided by ED. The increase comes as the office proceeds with 54 compliance reviews in districts and institutions of higher education nationwide, including cases involving disparate discipline rates and treatment of students with disabilities. OCR Director Russlynn Ali said the reason for the increase in complaints is unclear, but believes students, parents and administrators have more faith that officials will take action.
ED’s data highlight issues that, in some cases, have long been documented, like the disparate discipline rate between black and white male students, and in other cases are reflective of the new challenges facing schools, such as changing demographics and rising numbers of students with diabetes and food allergies, now considered disabilities. The compliance reviews will try to determine whether school policies are having a disparate impact — a different result on students of a particular race or gender — and if there is an educational justification. Ali said that in some cases, administrators do not know they are discriminating. “There’s not a superintendent or a school official or a teacher that I’ve met anywhere that says I go to work every day wanting to violate students civil rights,” Ali said. “The problem is in far too many cases they actually don’t understand what their responsibilities are.”
Under federal law, English language learners must be provided with alternative services until they are proficient enough in English to participate meaningfully in mainstream classes. That is the subject of one of a dozen compliance reviews regarding English language learners currently under way. In Los Angeles, studies have shown that the majority of limited English students were born in the United States, and that nearly 30 percent aren’t placed in regular classes by the time they finish middle school. “Far too many students languish, it appears, as English language learners for 10 years or more,” Ali said. In Alabama, 10 districts are under investigation to determine whether or not students with disabilities are being discriminated against by having a shortened school day based on transportation schedules.
Source: Associated Press, 10/12/10, By Christine Armario
[Editor's Note; In July, 2010, Education Week reported that according to recent reviews of the school systems in Boston, Buffalo, NY, Portland, OR, and Seattle, those districts were not providing English language learner (ELL) students with the level of assistance in learning English that is guaranteed under federal law. The article also noted that the reviews, which were conducted by state officials or private independent groups, dovetail with current efforts by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to step up enforcement of civil rights laws in schools. A summary of the article, with links to background on ED and DOJ's civil rights enforcement efforts, is available at the first link below.
Education Week reported in early October, 2010, that Boston Public Schools (BPS) had reached a settlement with the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Education (ED) after the agencies' joint investigation into its ELL program. The agreement requires that, starting this school year, all of Boston’s 135 schools provide services to English-language learners, even if the schools don’t have large numbers of such students, something that wasn’t happening before. It also includes a mandate that the district offer “compensatory services” to students who previously had been deemed as “opting out” of language services that they were entitled to receive under federal law. A summary of the article is appears at the second link below.]