- The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced last week that it plans to reverse a controversial March provision that encouraged investigators to dismiss multiple complaints from the same source, according to Education Week.
- In addition to reversing the contentious “mass-filers” recommendation, OCR has pledged to conduct investigations into complaints that were dismissed over the past nine months because of the change.
- In May, after OCR announced the change to its case-processing manual, the Council for Parent Advocates and Attorneys, the NAACP, and the National Federation of the Blind filed a complaint in federal district court saying the department's decision to ignore serial complainants ran counter to the department’s mission.
Over the past two years Marci Lipsitt, an education advocate in Michigan, has filed 2,400 complaints with OCR over websites belonging to educational organizations that either aren’t accessible to the blind or visually impaired, or can’t be used by those who are unable to operate a mouse. Under the March change, complaints by advocates like Lispitt would have gone ignored. This, according to civil rights advocates, was unacceptable as many “mass-filers” are often submitting complaints for others.
Last year, for example, over 12,000 complaints were submitted to OCR — nearly a quarter of them, however, came from three people, Elizabeth Hill, a spokesperson for the Education Department told Disability Scoop. Since the March revision, OCR has dismissed nearly 700 complaints filed by five people, Eve Hill, an attorney representing the three civil rights organizations that had filed the lawsuit, told Education Week.
While the reversal of this rule — and the agreement to now investigate cases that were dismissed — is being celebrated by civil rights advocates, Education Week points out that it doesn’t address all concerns within this community. Under the Obama administration, OCR instituted a practice where complaints were supposed to be assessed for evidence of systemic discrimination. The March revisions, however, encourage investigators to look for macro trends “only where it is appropriate to do so in light of the allegations or based on facts ascertained in the investigation.” There has been no effort to reassess that change.
The case-processing manual changes are just some of several alterations made by OCR, under Betsy DeVos, that have largely altered the policies under the Obama administration. In July, for example, DeVos’s education department shared that it was withdrawing several Obama-era guidance documents designed to help schools take race into account to make their campuses more diverse. Additionally the department announced this year that it planned to place a two-year delay on a 2016 policy that aimed to focus on students with disabilities. The rule would have gone into effect this school year. This summer ProPublica also found that the department ended over 1,200 civil rights investigations that started during the Obama administration due to insufficient evidence.