New bill by Waters provides protection of student civil rights

Increasing transparency of Department of Education

Merdies Hayes Editor In Chief | 8/2/2018, 10:10 a.m.
Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee..
Maxine Waters

Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, introduced recently H.R. 6537, the Education Department Civil Rights Transparency Act, which will increase transparency in investigations conducted by the Department of Education’s (DOE) Office of Civil Rights in order to ensure that students’ civil rights are protected.

“We have watched in horror as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has launched a full-on assault on civil rights protections for students -- particularly students of color, students with disabilities, transgender students, and survivors of sexual assault -- all in the name of greater efficiency. However, a Department of Education that ignores its mandate to enforce federal civil rights laws isn’t efficient, it’s delinquent. Betsy DeVos’ failure to properly enforce civil rights laws necessitated my introduction of the Education Department Civil Rights Transparency Act, which requires that the Education Department publish its civil rights related activities so we can better hold the Secretary accountable,” Waters said.

Pursuant to 20 U.S. Code § 3413, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for ensuring federal civil rights laws are followed by our nation’s academic institutions. However, under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Department is failing to do so. The Department revealed changes to OCR’s Case Processing Manual, which will eliminate an appeals process for students who reported civil rights violations and limit the time in which complainants can offer OCR investigators evidence.

The Department also announced that it would begin reviewing civil rights cases in isolation of one another, reversing the prior practice of investigating whether civil rights violations are widespread or systemic; rescinded guidance that helped ensure that schools do not discriminate against transgender students; and, rescinded guidance which protects students from sexual assault and harassment on school campuses, among other disturbing actions.

As a remedy, the Education Department Civil Rights Transparency Act would require the Department to publicly disclose:

• The academic institutions that have been accused of violating students’ civil rights, as well as information on any complaints the Department declined to pursue and an explanation as to why they were declined;

• Any resolution agreement entered into between the Department and an academic institution, including the effectiveness of any corrective actions undertaken;

• Instances in which the Department determines a complaint does not allege a civil rights violation over which it has jurisdiction—for instance, if a student alleges discrimination based on gender identity and the Department does not consider that allegation to be a civil rights issue;

• Any changes made, in the preceding year, to the manual used by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to investigate complaints of civil rights violations; and

• Any complaints dismissed for administrative or procedural reasons, and for such complaints, whether the Department offered the complainant the opportunity to correct the administrative or procedural error(s).

The Education Department Civil Rights Transparency Act is cosponsored by 21 members of Congress. It is endorsed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), American Association of University Woman (AAUW), Human Rights Campaign, Futures Without Violence, Feminist Majority Foundation, End Rape on Campus, and Know Your IX. The following are statements issues by the various entities in support of this legislation: