Articles tagged with office of civil rights

Obama administration lawyers open School Law Seminar

Two lawyers from the Obama administration answered questions from Council of School Attorneys (COSA) members at the opening general session Thursday of the 2014 School Law Seminar in New Orleans. The meeting is held in conjunction with NSBA’s Annual Conference.

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon and Anurima Bhargava, chief of the educational opportunities section, Civil Rights Division, at the U.S. Department of Justice, took questions from school district lawyers on a wide range of topics, including reasons for OCR investigations and the recent guidance on students with disabilities and extracurricular activities.

Lhamon spoke briefly about the mission and purpose of OCR. “Education is a civil rights issue,” she said. “That is the work we are doing at the Department of Education. We hope we can work together to deliver that justice.”

COSA lawyers lined up to ask questions of the two women. One lawyer wanted to know what she should do about what she termed “frequent flyers” — employees who file constant complaints and grievances. “It’s burden for us to get the data,” she said. “Every one of those [complaints] have come back as unfounded. Is there anything we can do to bring to your attention that this is an every-month occurrence?”

OCR is required by law to investigate any compliant, said Lhamon, “but we are looking at ways to ease” the frequent flyer problem.

Bhargava noted that her office did not have the same legal obligation to investigate every complaint. “We know there are the frequent flyers,” she said. “We try to be mindful of that. We are looking for ways to coordinate so you are not answering multiple complaints.”

Another question was about the school board obligation to look into matters such as student disciplinary decisions, which boards traditionally leave to district staff.

“We haven’t put out guidance about what boards should do,” Lhamon answered. “We want our school staff, boards, parents, and teachers to be thinking about what to ask. Boards do defer to staff, but you can ask and look underneath. Boards can make the decision when and where to ask those questions.”

Bhargava encouraged board member to look at the OCR data. “The data helps identify where there are issues. Everyone is empowered to use the data and ask questions.”

The School Law Seminar runs through Saturday.

 

Kathleen Vail|April 4th, 2014|Categories: Conferences and Events, Council of School Attorneys, NSBA Annual Conference 2014, School Law|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA offers webinars on emerging legal issues for school districts

The National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys (COSA) has planned a series of webinars this spring on emerging legal issues for school districts and their attorneys.

COSA will host a webinar on Feb. 7 on the Affordable Health Care Act that will discuss some of the major components of the ACA. The webinar will address: State Health Insurance Exchanges, some Group Health Plan Requirements (Summary of Benefits, W-2 reporting, FSA contributions, “full time employee” determinations, and more), the Individual Mandate, Medicaid, and requirements due to kick in next year.

On Feb. 26, the NSBA legal team will present a boot camp on major U.S. Supreme Court cases impacting public education.

And beginning on March 19, COSA will offer a three-part series of webinars on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and recent changes in guidance to school districts. COSA notes that school districts all over the country have experienced a new level of vigor in the investigations of discrimination complaints filed with multiple federal agencies. The webinars will show how a proactive hands-on approach to handling OCR complaints will benefit school districts in their current and future dealings with OCR and will provide suggested best practices. The series includes:

  • Before OCR Arrives: Preventative Steps (March 19)
  • Types of OCR Investigations and Their Outcomes (May 7)
  • Nuts and Bolts of an OCR Investigation: From Initial Notice to Closure Letter (June 11)

More details about the costs and registration are available on COSA’s webpage. State associations have free access to these sessions.

In addition, COSA’s 2011 and 2012 webinars  are now available for purchase and download. If you paid to attend a session and want to listen again, contact COSA for a code to replay for free.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|February 6th, 2013|Categories: School Law|Tags: , , , |

Tracking civil rights into the 21st century

Photo courtesy of ED

Photo courtesy of ED

A few weeks ago, at the 45th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” when a peacful protest turned violent in Selma, Alab., Education Secretary Arne Duncan promised to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement in schools, which under the auspices of the Office of Civil Rights had stalled.

“The struggle for equal opportunity in our nation’s schools and universities is not at an end,” Duncan said at the historic site. “We will work with schools and enforce laws to ensure that all children— no matter what their race, gender, disability or native origin– have a fair chance at a good future.” 

But with compliance reviews on those objectives having diminished to little more than a look at the system’s current procedures and protocol, what does “reinvigorate” mean in the 21st century?

Well, first off, we learned it meant that compliance investigators would be reviewing and closing grievances made against 32 school districts by the end of the fiscal year, and launching a major investigation of a large urban district, which we soon discovered was Los Angeles Unified.
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Naomi Dillon|March 31st, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , , , |

A new role for the Office of Civil Rights

Photo courtesy of Stockvault

Photo courtesy of Stockvault

It’s been more than 10 years since I visited the small city of Perry, Iowa, to do a story on how its public schools were adapting to a large influx of Hispanic students. There had been friction in this little railroad town over the new immigrants, but the schools were a refuge for all.

I remember how impressed I was by the dedication of the superintendent, the principals, and the ESL teachers: They were truly committed to giving the newcomers from places like Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala the very best education they could provide.

I wrote a pretty glowing story — and rightly so. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to some of these foreign-born students in a few years, especially those who had come to Iowa as middle or high schoolers with limited English skills. How many of them would graduate and go on to college or decent-paying jobs?   
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Lawrence Hardy|March 10th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Diversity|Tags: , , , , |
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