On June 8, 2017, Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, sent a memorandum to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights regional directors, outlining immediate changes to the investigative practices to be used when investigating alleged violations of civil rights by public school districts in the United States.  The memorandum applies to pending complaints and newly filed complaints, but does not apply to complaints previously resolved by OCR.

Highlights of Changes:

  • Complaints that were previously automatically reviewed by OCR headquarters in Washington D.C. are no longer subject to automatic review and generally may be handled by the regional offices;
  • OCR will reverse its previous investigative rule requiring 3 years of past complaint data/files;
  • What the memorandum characterizes as the “one size fits all” investigative approach is to be replaced with a case-by-case assessment; and
  • The scope of investigations will be more closely limited to the allegations made in the complaint, ceasing the practice of doing system-wide investigations when individual complaints raise issues related to priority issues, like racial disparities in student discipline.

OCR’s Announced Goals for Investigations:

  1. Swiftly address compliance issues raised complaints;
  2. Reach reasonable resolution agreements with defined and enforceable obligations; and
  3. Encourage voluntary settlement (if possible).

This memorandum suggests that investigations may become more narrowly focused in the future and that OCR may be open to less burdensome resolution agreements than under Obama administration.

This is one of many changes to OCR we anticipate taking place under the Trump Administration. Please be sure to subscribe to our K-12 Legal Insights Blog for the latest on issues directly impacting schools across the country.