A Capehart Scatchard Blog

What You Need to Know About OCR Complaints & Investigations – Part 1

By on March 27, 2018 in Other with 0 Comments

By: Lauren E. Tedesco, Esq.
Editor: Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq.

The Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) is the federal agency charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws in programs or activities that receive federal financial aid from the United States Department of Education (“USDOE”). The OCR investigates alleged discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin pursuant to Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; sex discrimination pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; discrimination on the basis of disability pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and age discrimination pursuant to the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. As recipients of federal financial assistance from the USDOE, all public elementary and secondary schools are within the OCR’s purview for enforcement of these federal anti-discrimination laws.

Any individual, including parents, can file a complaint with the OCR when they believe that an educational institution has discriminated against them on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age, within 180 calendar days from when the alleged discrimination took place. Capehart Scatchard has handled numerous OCR complaints on behalf of school districts on issues ranging from alleged inaccessibility of playgrounds for students with physical impairments to alleged non-compliance of procedures for developing accommodation plans for students with certain medical conditions. Upon receipt of such complaint, the OCR will determine whether it has jurisdiction and whether the allegations were timely filed. If these initial requirements are met, the OCR will act as a neutral fact-finder and will work diligently to promptly resolve complaints by way of an investigation and/or assisted resolution.

If the OCR conducts an investigation, the educational institution is notified by way of an opening letter and data request. The data request will seek information and/or documentation that the OCR believes will be beneficial in conducting its investigation. For elementary and secondary education, the opening letter and data request will be sent to the Superintendent of Schools. It is imperative that upon receipt, the Superintendent or designee send a copy of the opening letter and data request to counsel, as the timeline for the school district’s response is rather tight, most often, less than a month. Thereafter, it is important to begin gathering the information and/or documentation requested. It is also important to speak with the staff members involved in the allegations. The response to the data request may also include any other relevant information and/or a position statement by the school district.

Within the OCR’s opening letter and data request will also be a document entitled, “OCR Complaint Processing Procedures,” and may include, when appropriate, an Early Complaint Resolution (“ECR”) process which is similar to mediation. The ECR process affords the parties the opportunity to mutually resolve the complaint prior to the investigation being completed. If offered, ECR should also be discussed with counsel prior to rendering the school district’s response to the opening letter and data request.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series in which we will discuss best practices to responding to a data request and further discuss investigation procedures, including interviews and letters of finding.

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Lauren E. Tedesco

About the Author

About the Author:

Lauren E. Tedesco, Esq. focuses her practice in the representation of public and private sector employers in the areas of labor and employment, school law (including special education) and civil rights law matters. Ms. Tedesco is admitted to practice in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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