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The Education Department Plans to Narrow Its Civil Rights Investigations

The Trump administration's, Department of Education head, Betsy DeVos, will be scaling down its investigations into civil rights complaints, according to a report from The New York Times. The new guidelines were issued in a June 8 memo to replace Obama-era mandates that greatly expanded the federal government's role in investigations.

During the Obama administration, complaints—such as colleges mishandling sexual assaults or racial disparities over discipline in schools—would automatically open an expanded investigation to look for systematic patterns that were the cause of broader problems. The deeper investigations led to new policies with schools and universities often being required to overhaul previous policies to address civil rights concerns. This generally led to a much higher caseload with an understaffed office struggling to close cases within the 180 days mandate, said spokesperson for the Education Department, Liz Hill.

Hill said the new guidelines were set in place to ensure all cases get the prompt care and attention they need. “Justice delayed is justice denied, and justice for many complaints has been denied for too long,” Hill said in a statement.

In the internal memo issued by DOE Office of Civil Rights director Candice E. Jackson, investigators will no longer have to “broaden their injuries to identify systemic issues and whole classes of victims.” It will also no longer be mandatory for them to notify D.C. officials of all allegations such as racial discrimination or failure to properly investigate sexual assaults on campus.

Civil rights leaders criticized the move saying that it will weaken the accuracy of investigating cases and trades thoroughness for efficiency. “If we want assembly line justice, and I say ‘justice’ in quotes, then that's the direction that we should go,” said Catherine Lhamon, head of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

The news comes on the heels of Education Department's Office for Civil Rights closing a discrimination case centered around a transgender student in Ohio. In a letter provided to the lawyers representing the elementary school student, the agency said that it was withdrawing its 2016 findings that the school had wrongly barred the student from using the girl's bathroom. The Washington Post reported that Jackson said the findings were withdrawn “because those findings were based on guidance that directed schools to allow transgender students access to bathrooms matching their gender identity.”

Interestingly enough, The United States Commission on Civil Rights is turning the tables on the Trump administration's plans to scale back civil rights investigations with a probe of its own. A statement from the bipartisan agency said concerns were raised after budget cuts in civil rights offices of several agencies, such as the Education Department, were announced. A two-year probe investigating the degree that current cuts impact the office's ability to perform its duties within the administration was unanimously approved by the watchdog group.

 

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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