Home > Uncategorized > In Betsy DeVos’ World Civil Rights Investigations are “Neutral”… In the Real World, OCR Needs to Champion Victims of Racism and Sexism

In Betsy DeVos’ World Civil Rights Investigations are “Neutral”… In the Real World, OCR Needs to Champion Victims of Racism and Sexism

July 18, 2017

A recent Politco post by Caitlin Emma detailed one of the most alarming developments in the United States Department of Education: the decision to diminish the so-called activist role of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) that is part of their mission. As noted in previous posts, Acting OCR Head, Candice Jackson, who had limited experience in the field of civil rights, has led the department’s efforts to stop ongoing investigations, to limit new investigations, and to rescind many of the guidance documents drafted by her predecessors. In response to this new direction, Senator Patty Murray wrote a letter to Betsy DeVos seeking “a host of information by July 11, including a list of civil rights investigations that have been closed or dismissed since the Trump administration began.” 34 Democratic Senators co-signed the letter. Instead of responding to any of the specific requests, Ms. DeVos responded with a letter outlining the new direction USDOE would be taking under her leadership. As Ms. Emma reports:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she is “returning” the Office for Civil Rights “to its role as a neutral, impartial, investigative agency.”

…DeVos asserted that the department’s civil rights arm under the Obama administration “had descended into a pattern of overreaching, of setting out to punish and embarrass institutions rather than work with them to correct civil rights violations and of ignoring public input prior to issuing new rules.”

As part of the changes she is implementing, the civil rights office would no longer issue “new regulations via administrative fiat,” as the Obama administration did, she wrote.

When Ms. DeVos effectively ignored Senator Murray’s request, Ms. Murray wrote another letter asking for the information. In response she got yet another letter full of generalities about the USDOE’s unwavering commitment to student rights and the backlog of OCR cases that resulted from the Obama administration’s “overreach”. In her review of Ms. DeVos’ second letter, Ms. Emma wrote:

“The adage ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is fitting in this instance; too many students have been forced to wait months, and in some cases years, for adjudication of their complaints while OCR chose to collect years of data about an institution.”

DeVos suggested that some of the changes taking place at OCR come after discussions with “career staff … who had identified material problems impeding their ability to promptly seek justice.”

(The guidance letters issued by the Obama administration) may have been “politically expedient,” DeVos wrote, “but it deprived the public of meaningful opportunities to provide input. At my direction, the department will no longer mask new regulations as Dear Colleague letters and will issue new regulations only after appropriate notice and public comment.”

As is the case in most complicated issues, the GOP strategy seems to favor simplicity over complexity. The OCR’s efforts to clarify divisive hot-button issues like transgender bathrooms are generally welcomed  by schools, colleges, and universities who are seeking clarity on an emerging civil rights issue in order to avoid case-by-case decisions and endless lawsuits. Compelling transgender individuals use the bathroom based on the gender on their birth certificate is a perfect example of the GOP’s desire to make a complicated issue simple. By acknowledging and responding to the complexity, OCR has been accused of issuing “new regulations via administrative fiat”. It appears that instead of having a uniform response to the issue of transgender rights, OCR intends to let each state handle it and, in some cases, states may hand it off to individual school districts. This will result in a crazy-quilt of regulations that will ultimately make life unnecessarily complicated for individuals who are already dealing with a complex issue.

The OCR’s efforts to address institutional racism and sexism on campuses and in schools are inherently complicated. The accusations brought to OCR require institutions to gather data, require the department to analyze and investigate the data, and then issue findings. They necessarily place OCR in an adversarial role. The institutions invariably deny any violations of student’s civil rights, making it impossible for OCR to “...work with them to correct civil rights violations“. And because OCR wants to base their decisions on facts, the accused institution is often required to gather data that consumes time and, thus, “defers justice”. But here’s the conundrum: if the data is not gathered and assessed, OCR would be rightfully accused of drawing shoddy conclusions. So… rather than tackle complicated issues like institutional racism and sexism, the OCR under Ms. DeVos will effectively ignore any cases that are complicated. This will have the effect of allowing the existing practices on campuses to remain in place.

Those who lead colleges and universities and serve on their boards will welcome this change, as will States legislators who want to limit the rights of LBGT’s, minorities, and immigrants. Victims of sexual abuse, discrimination based on their gender identity and race, though, will find the coming years difficult. As the title of this post indicates: In Betsy DeVos’ World Civil Rights Investigations are “Neutral”… In the Real World, OCR Needs to Champion Victims of Racism and Sexism

%d bloggers like this: