One important way OCR carries out its responsibilities is by resolving complaints. Persons who believe there has been a violation of the civil rights laws enforced by OCR may file complaints with the appropriate enforcement office. OCR's process provides a forum for resolution of complaints of discrimination alleging violations of the civil rights laws.
OCR's primary objective is to resolve the complainant's allegations of discrimination promptly, fairly and appropriately. In FY 2003, OCR received 5,141 complaints (an increase of 2.4 percent from FY 2002 receipts) and resolved 5,246, some of which had been filed in previous years. Figure 2 shows the percentage of complaint receipts by jurisdiction.
Historically, the majority of complaints OCR receives in a fiscal year allege discrimination on the basis of disability. This was the case again in FY 2003, when 52 percent of the complaints OCR received alleged discrimination on the basis of disability. In a report released in February 2003, the National Council on Disability (NCD) recognized and commended ED's Office for Civil Rights for its timeliness in processing Section 504 complaints. NCD also praised OCR as the only federal agency with detailed data available to the general public about its work on disability complaints.6
OCR uses a variety of techniques to resolve complaints, ranging from facilitating voluntary resolutions between parties to negotiating agreements with recipients for voluntary compliance after compliance concerns have been established. If these methods fail, OCR issues violation letters and enters into negotiations to correct those violations. It is only after OCR has advised recipients of their failure to comply with the civil rights laws and has determined that compliance cannot be secured by voluntary means that, as a last resort, OCR seeks compliance through the administrative hearing process or refers cases to the U.S. Department of Justice. This approach allows OCR to:
- provide timely and effective intervention at the beginning of the complaint process;
- focus on achieving positive change; and
- keep students, parents and school officials central to the resolution of complaints.
Figure 2: OCR Complaint Receipts by Jurisdiction
Appendix A shows FY 2003 complaint receipts by OCR enforcement offices and Appendix B lists the contact information for each enforcement office.