Department Of Education Backtracks On Rolling Back Civil Rights Protections for Students in Schools
During the week of November 21, the Education Department announced that it was reversing a controversial decision on how the federal government handles civil rights complaints filed by students and their families; i.e. that it would no longer be dismissing cases that are filed en masse.
This announcement could impact thousands of families, especially those with special needs students who feel that schools are not providing adequate accommodations under the law. It is an incredibly important decision that will undoubtedly have a huge impact on ensuring equal access to education.
March Announcement Regarding Handling of Civil Rights Cases
The Department had previously announced that it would not only be eliminating the appeals process altogether, that it would be dismissing any and all civil rights grievances that were part of a “pattern of complaints” that resulted in an “undue burden” on the government. Some of those affected, for example, would be parents, teachers, and others who filed complaints claiming that certain school websites weren’t accessible to blind students.
Still, things aren’t completely in the clear just yet: the announcement amounts to something that could simply be reversed by the Department at any moment. A ruling from a federal judge or settlement agreement would more permanently bar the government from dismissing these important filings. In addition, it is still unclear what will happen to hundreds of cases that were dismissed after the initial decision/announcement was made in March of this year.
Perhaps most importantly, the technical changes to the Case Processing Manual, which governs how these complaints are handled, are extremely important. While the provision indicating that complaints that were part of a pattern of allegations would be dismissed was deleted, and the right of appeal was restored, a number of provisions have been retained in the new manual. For example, the provision that limits investigations into individual allegations remains, and it instructs staff to avoid systematic probes unless certain facts surface. The manual also still encourages resolution of complaints through “facilitated conversations between the parties”; a weak provision providing little support to those who have suffered from civil rights violations in schools. Another area of concern—that is still not completely clear in terms of its intent and effects—is the provision stating that the agency has an obligation to take actions consistent with the principles of the First Amendment, as they relate to the exercise of speech or expression. There has been some concern that this provision relates to cases involving sexual harassment, where someone has been accused of a civil rights violation based on comments made.
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If you or your family’s civil rights have been violated, contact the Baez Law Firm to help ensure that they are defended and restored, and that you are compensated for any harm you have suffered as a result.