The US Department of Education’s (USDE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released an updated Case Processing Manual, effective November 19, 2018. The manual, which provides guidance on how cases are to be handled, can be viewed at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/ocrcpm.pdf
Of particular note is that OCR is in essence reversing itself in a number of areas pertaining to how it investigates civil rights claims. The changes eliminate language added in March 2018 that called for investigators to dismiss multiple complaints originating from the same source. Another change in language also now assures that OCR will conduct investigations of complaints that were dismissed as per the previous rule change. Many special education and civil rights advocates had decried the changes made in March, and many filed lawsuits to challenge those changes.
However, it is important to note that the newly revised manual continues to direct investigators not to consider each complaint for evidence of systemic discrimination. Instead, investigators will look for evidence of broader discrimination “only where it is appropriate to do so in light of the allegations or based on facts ascertained in the investigation.” This investigative approach is a holdover from the March revisions, which had reversed a much different approach previously put into place by the Obama administration.
In addition, USDE is also continuing with both a “rapid resolution process” and “facilitated resolution process” designed to help complainants and school districts to resolve issues quickly with help from OCR. It is also continuing an expanded time frame for negotiating agreements with school districts that have been the subject of complaints.
Many see the new manual changes as a USDE attempt to ease pressure brought on by lawsuits against it that stemmed from the March revisions. However, some civil rights organizations are still demanding that nearly 700 complaints that were dismissed under the March revisions now be re-opened. Thus, it seems that there will continue to be legal challenges to how OCR will handle complaints as it moves forward with its current manual revisions.