Office for Civil Rights Logs Record Number of Discrimination Complaints
Most of the nearly 19,000 complaints filed with the Department of Education allege discrimination based on disability, race, and sex.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) received almost 19,000 discrimination complaints between Oct. 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2022 — more than double the previous year and breaking the previous record of 16,000 filed in fiscal year 2016.
Officials say the complaints, most of which allege discrimination based on disability, race or sex, reflect grievances that accrued during the pandemic and subsequent political and civil unrest, reports The New York Times. Following pandemic-related closures, test scores have hit a 30-year low and mental health challenges continue to grow amid a nationwide teacher shortage.
As in previous years, the majority of complaints allege discrimination against students with disabilities as schools were scrutinized for failing to properly serve such students during school closures.
The increase also reversed the decline in complaints filed under the Trump administration, which rolled back civil rights protections. In 2018, the OCR began dismissing hundreds of civil rights complaints under a new protocol aimed at clearing up a congested pipeline. In a statement to the Times, Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights, said the record-breaking year is both encouraging and sobering.
“It reflects the confidence in the Office for Civil Rights as a place to seek redress,” she said. “At the same time, the scope and volume of harm that we’re asking our babies to navigate is astronomical.”
Several civil rights groups blame former President Donald Trump for creating an atmosphere of intolerance in American schools. In Nov. 2020, the White House issued a briefing statement calling for the promotion of “patriotic education,” leading conservative policymakers to support a series of efforts, including banning books, revising curriculum, and challenging diversity programs, the Times says.
The number of complaints alleging transgender and gender-identity discrimination in violation of Title IX also increased. LGBTQ+ rights advocates believe the increased complaint volume reflects both the heightened visibility of the population and backlash over the laws designed to protect their rights and safety.
In the first three months of 2022, state lawmakers proposed at least 238 bills that would limit the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans, according to NBC News. LGBTQ+ supporters say these efforts have fueled more harassment of students based on gender identity and sexual orientation and have impacted educators’ willingness to interfere.
“I do think that all of this rhetoric has spooked people,” said Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign. “Compassion and respect has become scarily political.”
The exact number of total complaints has not yet been made public but will be included in the office’s annual report.
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