U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans

1995 Annual Report to Congress -- April 2, 1996

OCR Empowers Others to Prevent Illegal Discrimination

OCR's 788 FTE staff in FY 1995 resolved more than 5,700 complaint-driven and agency- initiated cases. This number, however, is small in relation to the nation's tens of thousands of schools and thousands of postsecondary institutions. OCR therefore recognizes that its efforts alone are insufficient to stop illegal discrimination in education. Students, parents and educators must have the knowledge and skills to prevent illegal discrimination from occurring in the first place. OCR pursues a number of approaches to the empowerment of others.

One major project in FY 1995 was the publication of a guide to help schools conduct an evaluation of their compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Written in straightforward, non-legalistic language, the guide reviews requirements of the ADA and offers suggestions and work sheets to assess compliance. Initial feedback suggests that the guide does in fact help school districts in complying with the requirements of the ADA. The guide was made available free of charge to each of the nation's 14,880 school districts.

A document was issued on July 7, 1995 that sets forth the legal issues surrounding disproportionate representation of minority students in special education, a persistent problem in the nation's schools. The guidance is being used by OCR staff in investigations, and has gained a larger audience outside the agency. Work also commenced on compiling strategies and models that hold promise in preventing and remedying illegally discriminatory practices in assignment to special education classes. OCR worked with Project Forum, a part of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, to develop a resource guide for regions to use with local schools and school districts in devising resolution agreements on this compliance issue.

The Department of Education confirmed in September 1995 that the guidance on race-targeted student financial aid (issued in February 1994) had not changed as a result of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Adarand Constructors v. Pena, 115 S.Ct. 2097 (1995). As a result, the Office for Civil Rights continues to implement this guidance in case investigations and to provide technical assistance to institutions that seek to develop or implement financial aid programs pursuant to the policy and federal court decisions.

An Electronic Library containing OCR regulations, policies and important case-related documents was launched during the year. This system, which will reside on OCR's Wide Area Network, permits easy access to these materials by OCR staff. Future improvements will include public access through the Department's World Wide Web site.

OCR works with the Department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education to ensure that school districts' plans for funding under the Department of Education's Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) do not foster discrimination. OCR responded to approximately 300 requests for technical assistance from school districts and consortia preparing MSAP applications and certified the civil rights assurances of 171 applicants for MSAP funding in FY 1995.

Pursuant to vocational education regulations, all states monitor their programs, and those of their subrecipients, to ensure compliance with Federal civil rights laws. OCR is responsible for ensuring that each state has met its commitments. To eliminate burdensome reporting requirements and provide greater flexibility to states, OCR reinvented its evaluation requirements. A large part of OCR's new approach involved bringing state officials together to learn from each other. States now spend more time learning about and implementing better practices, and less time producing paper.

The aim of OCR's efforts is in all cases to prevent violations of the civil rights laws. Technical assistance is provided through such activities as on-site consultations, conference participation, training classes, workshops and meetings, as well as through written information and tens of thousands of telephone consultations annually. OCR thus empowers students, parents and educators to secure the equal access to educational opportunity required by law.

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