Office for Civil Rights
|Agency executive||Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights|
|Parent department||U.S. Department of Education|
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education that is primarily focused on protecting civil rights in Federally assisted education programs and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, age, or membership in patriotic youth organizations.
OCR is one of the largest federal civil rights agencies in the United States, with a staff of approximately 650 attorneys, investigators, and staff. The agency is located in twelve regional offices and in Washington, D.C., headquarters. The Office for Civil Rights is responsible for ensuring compliance by recipients of federal education funds with several federal civil rights laws, including:
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
- Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972,
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act,
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,
- the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, and
- the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.
In the case of school bullying school districts may violate these civil rights statutes and the Department of Educations’s implementing regulations when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees. Under these federal civil rights laws and regulations, students are protected from harassment by school employees, other students, and third parties.
The United States Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights is the head of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Department of Education. The Assistant Secretary is also the primary civil rights adviser to the United States Secretary of Education.
Currently, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights is Catherine Lhamon (August, 2013-present). Former Assistant Secretaries were Cynthia G. Brown (1980), Clarence Thomas (1981–1982), Harry M. Singleton (1982–1985), LeGree S. Daniels (1987–1989), Michael L. Williams (1990–1993), Norma V. Cantu (1993–2001), Gerald A. Reynolds (2002–2003), Stephanie J. Monroe (2005–2008), and Russlynn Ali (2009-2012).
Sexual violence investigations
On May 1, 2014, the Office for Civil Rights released a list of higher education institutions with open Title IX sexual violence investigations. This list constitutes the first time the federal government has announced ongoing sexual violence investigations; previously investigations were known only to members of university and college communities. When announcing the schools under investigation, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon suggested that "increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue... and foster better public awareness of civil rights."
The decision to release the names of universities and colleges under investigation was due to pressure from both the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the New Campus Anti-Rape Movement. Importantly, Lhamon continued, "a college or university's appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law."
There are critics of the list on both sides of campus anti-rape politics. Andrea Pino, a complainant against UNC-Chapel Hill and co-founder of End Rape on Campus, told the Huffington Post that "announcing an investigation can open survivors to retaliation, and it's important that the OCR also take emphasis on providing survivors an option to opt out of having their investigation announced if it could endanger them, especially in small institutions where anonymity is less of an option." Organizations like FIRE have argued that the OCR list--along with its precursor the Dear colleague letter--violates the rights to due process for both institutions and individuals.
- Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights (October 26, 2010). "Letter to a Colleague" (PDF). Letter to a Colleague. United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. Retrieved November 9, 2011. "The statutes that [The Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education] enforces include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504); and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II). Section 504 and Title II prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. School districts may violate these civil rights statutes and the Department’s implementing regulations, 34 C.F.R. parts 100, 104, and 106, when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees."
- "U.S. Department of Education Releases List of Higher Education Institutions with Open Title IX Sexual Violence Investigations". U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- Steinhauer, Jennifer; Joachim, David (1 May 2014). "55 Colleges Named in Federal Inquiry Into Handling of Sexual Assault Cases". Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- Newman, Jonah; Sander, Libby. "Promise Unfulfilled?". Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2014-08-09.
- Kingkade, Tyler (1 July 2014). "55 Colleges Face Sexual Assault Investigations". Retrieved 10 October 2014.
- Smith, Robert (30 August 2014). "On Sexual Harassment and Title IX". Retrieved 10 October 2014.
- Associated press (2 July 2014). "US Ed Dept adds 12 Schools to Title IX List". Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- Lamb, Katherine (23 July 2014). "Education Dept. opens Title IX investigation of Brown". Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- "30 July 2014 List". Retrieved 9 August 2014.
- Office for Civil Rights Website
- Oral History Interview with Peter Holms (Director, 1973) from Oral Histories of the American South