The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is opposing a burdensome and confusing expansion of data collected on students and school districts proposed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
NSBA questions whether some of the requested data would be relevant to OCR’s duties—as well as whether OCR has the legal authority to request certain data—in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which has asked for public comment before it determines whether to allow the expansion. Such an expansion also would place an expensive and time-consuming burden on schools and create confusion between OCR’s interpretations of federal law and public school districts’ actual obligations under their own state laws, NSBA’s letter notes.
“The Office for Civil Rights does not have the authority to collect data in some of these proposed areas, nor should it need that data to conduct its job,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “By expanding the scope of inquiry further into a school district’s operations, the Office for Civil Rights is forcing a school district to expend time and resources on extracting and reporting data that won’t assist in the improvement of students’ educations or civil rights compliance by districts.”
For instance, OCR is asking to collect information on absenteeism rates, an item that NSBA’s letter notes may be valuable for other purposes but does not pertain to civil rights issues in the areas monitored by OCR.
Further, some of the definitions in the proposed data expansion raise concerns about the quality and integrity of the data to be collected because the categories are ill-defined and confusing. For instance, a category that would require school districts to report “incidents triggering discipline” directs schools to count “criminal act[s],” a definition that will engender divergent reporting due to variances in state criminal codes.
“This lack of clarity creates a subjective interpretation of the definitions of incidents, and would likely lead to misreporting or double counting of certain incidents because there is no guidance on the new categories,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “The proposed changes imply that the agency is searching for data to support preconceived hypotheses about public schools.”
NSBA is also urging the OMB to reject a mandate that school districts provide OCR with the contact information for a district’s civil rights coordinator, and encourages OCR to engage in the better practice of working through a district’s attorney when carrying out enforcement obligations or investigating claims.