Your School Received an OCR Complaint. What's Next?

Updated: Mar 11, 2019

Responding to Office for Civil Rights Complaints under the Revised Case Processing Manual

You know that not all parents, students or community members are satisfied with what your school is providing. If they believe that the treatment, the policy, or the process discriminates against them (or someone at your school) on a protected basis, such as sex, race, or disability, they can opt to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

OCR has its own procedures for investigating these complaints: the Case Processing Manual (CPM). The process includes notifying and giving your school an opportunity to respond to the allegations. In the past, responding to OCR complaints could be confusing and time consuming. For example, OCR would identify specific legal issues it wanted the school to address, but it would not provide the recipient school with a copy of the actual complaint. If the complainant alleged something related to discipline involving one student, your school would be asked for multiple years of data for all students. In 2018, however, OCR revised its Case Processing Manual (CPM), generally providing school recipients with what we hope is a better and more timely process for responding to and resolving complaints.


Prior to 2018, the CPM was last revised in 2015. In 2018, however, OCR published two revisions, the first in March and the second on November 19, 2018. The revisions to the CPM include narrowing the scope of investigations, aimed at reducing a backlog of complaints.


The November 2018 manual is available at: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/ocrcpm.pdf.


One important change requires OCR to provide the recipient school with a copy of the actual complaint. This gives the school an opportunity not only to better understand the complainant’s concerns, but also to narrow its response to the actual allegations rather than guessing at what the complainant might have alleged.


The revised CPM also removed removing references to “systemic” investigations—the prior practice of seeking years of data from a school to determine whether problems extended beyond a specific complaint. Now, investigators are instructed to focus on the specific allegations contained in the filed complaint. As a result, instead of being asked, for example, for 3 years of discipline data for all students, OCR should now be requesting only the discipline data related to the student during the time period actually at issue based on the allegations in the complaint.


Your school now has more dismissal options. Perhaps the complainant filed the same or similar complaint with another federal, state, or local civil rights enforcement agency; maybe the complaint contains redundant allegations already being investigated by OCR; or your school already resolved these allegations through OCR or another process. Now, the CPM permits your school to request dismissal of the complaint for these (and other reasons).


The CPM revisions should lead to schools spending less time and money investigating and responding to complaints. But, it remains important for schools to timely and effectively respond to OCR complaints and/or ask for OCR’s assistance in resolving the complaint without the need for investigation.


If you need more information or need help responding to an OCR complaint, the Law Offices of Megan M. Moore can assist. Visit www.meganmoorelaw.com or email Megan at megan@meganmoorelaw.com for more information.


This post provides general information and does not constitute legal advice. The application of this information to a particular set of facts and circumstances can vary. If you have questions or require guidance, consult with legal counsel.


Law Offices of Megan M. Moore

3170 Fourth Ave #250

San Diego, CA 92103

Megan@MeganMooreLaw.com

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