On May 1, 2023, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released its annual report for Fiscal Year 2022. The FY 2022 report focused on civil rights complaints, proactive compliance reviews, technical assistance presentations, and revised policies and regulations. The highlight of the report was the unprecedented surge of civil rights complaints filed with OCR. OCR confronted the highest volume of complaints in its history, receiving 18,804 complaints. OCR resolved a total of 16,515 complaints, the second-highest number in its history. In addition, OCR conducted 100 proactive compliance reviews, published seven sets of resources and guidance, and provided 186 technical assistance presentations to support civil rights satisfaction in school communities. Click here to view the full report.
OCR’s Report: Complaints
Here are some examples of the types of complaints investigated and resolutions reached during 2022.
1. Combating Harassment Based on Race, Color, or National Origin
In August 2022, OCR determined that a school district in Arizona violated Title VI by inadequately responding to ongoing anti-Semitic harassment of a student. The harassment, which involved slurs and disparaging remarks about the student’s Jewish heritage, took place both at school and on social media for a period exceeding five months. The student suffered significant academic and emotional harm due to the harassment, and OCR found that the harassment was widespread throughout the school. Despite identifying nine students involved in the anti-Semitic harassment over several months, OCR found that the school district failed to assess the impact on other students and did not implement schoolwide measures to address the issue promptly.
To rectify the violation, the school district agreed to address the student’s academic and counseling needs resulting from the harassment. The school district also committed to reviewing and revising its policies, explicitly including anti-Semitic harassment as a prohibited behavior. Furthermore, the school district agreed to provide training to staff members, offer developmentally appropriate education to students, and develop a climate survey to be administered district wide.
2. Ensuring Equal Opportunities for English Learners
In March 2022, OCR conducted an investigation into whether a school district in Wisconsin discriminated against an eighth-grade student based on her national origin by failing to provide appropriate English Learner (EL) services. OCR determined that the school district violated Title VI by neglecting to take necessary actions to address the student’s language needs, determine suitable services for her, and adequately monitor her progress to prevent academic deficiencies.
To resolve these violations, the school district agreed to review and revise or develop policies related to the identification, assessment, and monitoring of EL students. It also committed to provide training to staff members, implement a recordkeeping system that tracks all EL students in the school district, designate a staff member responsible for assessing and evaluating the school district’s EL program, and offer individual relief to the student. The school district also agreed to provide individualized relief to the student who filed the complaint. For example, the district agreed to provide her parents with the results of the student’s language testing, identify any need for academic support, and provide compensatory services to the student if necessary.
3. Equal Access to Athletic Opportunities and Benefits
In February 2022, OCR reached a resolution regarding a complaint against a school district in California alleging sex-based discrimination in various aspects of its athletic programs, such as locker room access, game scheduling, practice time, transportation, and per diem allowances. During the investigation, OCR identified disparities in opportunities and facilities. Specifically, the varsity girls’ athletic teams had fewer regular season competitions, limited practice and travel opportunities, and inferior equipment, facilities (including locker rooms), and coaching compared to the boys’ teams.
To address these concerns, the school district agreed to take specific actions. These include providing training on Title IX responsibilities to the Title IX coordinator, athletic director, principal, and all coaches; ensuring that girls’ athletic teams have equivalent opportunities for competition, practice hours, equipment, and travel using school vans; maintaining an equivalent ratio of coaches per student for both girls’ and boys’ teams; treating male and female student-athletes equally regarding fundraising requirements; and providing equivalent team rooms and locker rooms for girls and boys.
4. Ensuring Appropriate Educational Support for Students With Disabilities
In June 2022, OCR resolved a complaint against a school district in Colorado regarding alleged disability-based discrimination. The complaint stated that the school district had failed to provide services outlined in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a period of two months. During OCR’s investigation, it was discovered that two special education teachers at the school had resigned around the same time, suggesting that other students may have also been affected by the lack of necessary services.
To address the investigation’s findings, the school district agreed to provide documentation demonstrating the hiring of two replacement special education teachers, create a list of all students at the school who did not receive the services or accommodations specified in their IEPs or Section 504 plans during the period without special education teachers, document the dates and amounts of services and accommodations that were not provided to each student, and offer written opportunities for meetings with the parents or guardians of each affected student to discuss compensatory or related services.
OCR’s Report: Enforcement, Rules, and Policies
In FY 2022, OCR also introduced proposed rulemaking and resources to facilitate the full implementation of Title IX. This included the issuance of proposed amendments to the Title IX regulations in June 2022. The proposed amendments aim to ensure that schools promptly and effectively address and prevent sex discrimination in their educational programs or activities. They also emphasize the need for a fair and reliable process for addressing complaints of sex discrimination and provide supportive measures for those affected. In addition, the proposed amendments clarify that Title IX safeguards against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics, pregnancy, and pregnancy-related conditions. The Department accepted public comments on the proposed regulations for a period of 90 days, and it plans to review and respond to the submitted comments before finalizing the rule in May 2023.
Moreover, OCR also released five sets of resources that outline educational institutions’ obligations to protect the civil rights of students with disabilities. One notable piece was the introduction of a 20-part video series that explains the components of ensuring digital accessibility for students and members of the school community who have visual impairments, hearing impairments, or other disabilities affecting their digital access.
Furthermore, OCR also issued a Dear Colleague Letter accompanied by a Fact Sheet on “Supporting Students with Disabilities and Avoiding the Discriminatory Use of Student Discipline.” These documents clarify the responsibilities of schools under Section 504 to prevent discrimination based on disability when administering student discipline. The guidance highlights the obligation of public schools to provide free appropriate public education to K-12 students with disability-related behaviors, make reasonable modifications to disciplinary policies for students with disabilities, and ensure that student discipline is carried out in a nondiscriminatory manner.
What This Means to You
OCR’s 2022 Annual Report provides a reminder of the wide variety of civil rights obligations that school districts have and some examples of what OCR considers to be best practice for addressing them.