The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights received 18,804 complaints in fiscal year 2022 — the most in its history and 12% higher than the previous record high of 16,720 complaints in 2016, according to the office's annual report released Monday.
Although the greatest share of complaints — 9,498 complaints, or 48% of the total — were related to Title IX sex discrimination, 7,339 of those were filed by one person. That skewed the usual trend of disability complaints taking the top spot.
As a result, disability complaints came in at the second-highest portion of complaints for 2022, at 6,467, or 32% of complaints. The third-most common complaints related to race, color or national origin, at 17% or 3,239 total.
With sex discrimination accounting for about half of OCR complaints, the most common area for those allegations to occur concerned athletics, at 4,387 complaints. The Education Department did not respond to a request Monday for how many complaints were at K-12 schools versus colleges.
This historic high in complaints comes as the office is experiencing a reduction in staffing compared to previous years, and amid the spread of laws that regulate access to LGBTQ and race-related curriculum, school facilities and more.
Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Office of Civil Rights, told K-12 Dive last month that OCR staff are juggling up to 48 cases per person — what she called an "untenable caseload" that worried her.
Partly in an effort to address this increased caseload, OCR has altered its approach to the complaint and resolution process. Now, the office allows all complainants a routine option for mediation as an alternative to investigation.
The new option is one that complainants are using more often, and one that has allowed the office to resolve issues more quickly, Lhamon said.
"Early results in this fiscal year suggest parties’ willingness to avail themselves of this new tool for resolution," OCR confirmed in the report it released Monday.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled its Title IX athletics proposed rule, which would allow districts in some cases to limit or deny transgender students' participation on sports teams aligning with their gender identities. The proposal would not allow blanket bans of transgender students in school athletic programs.
The athletics rule followed a broader Title IX rule proposed the Education Department last year, which for the first time included sex discrimination protections for LGBTQ students. That rule is expected to be finalized sometime this month.