Our conference Q&A session was a big hit, but not all of the questions could be answered.  Let’s take a look at one. . .

Q:           What happens when the U.S. Department of Education gets a complaint of discrimination from a student in our school district? 

A:            These are the basic steps the Department of Education and Department of Justice through the Office of Civil Rights and DOJ Civil Rights Division, may take when a discrimination complaint is made:

  • When a person makes a complaint of discrimination, the complaint will be reviewed to see if it falls under civil rights laws.
  • If the OCR determines that an investigation is warranted, it will notify both the complainant and the school district. The OCR will request and analyze evidence from both parties and other sources it deems appropriate.  An investigation may include a review of documents, interviews with both parties and other witnesses, and/or site visits.
  • At the conclusion of the investigation, OCR will determine whether there is either insufficient evidence of a violation of law or that a preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that the district failed to comply with the law.
  • A letter of its findings will be sent to all parties.
  • An Early Complaint Resolution process allows the parties an opportunity to resolve the complaint allegations soon after the complaint is open for investigation. Under this process, the OCR facilitates settlement discussions. If the parties reach agreement but the agreement is not followed, the complaining party can file another complaint.
  • If an investigation is underway but has not concluded, the school district can seek to resolve the complaint and a resolution agreement will be developed with the OCR. The OCR will then monitor compliance with that resolution agreement.
  • If the OCR finds against the complaining party, that party can appeal the decision.
  • There are strong prohibitions against retaliation against anyone who asserts a right protected by the civil rights laws or who cooperates in an investigation.

Regardless of the outcome of an OCR investigation, a person has the right to file suit against the school district.  In fact, suit may be filed even without seeking review by the Department of Education or Department of Justice.  For more on this, visit the Office of Civil Rights webpage for “How the Office of Civil Rights Handles Complaints.”

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