Changes to Office for Civil Rights' New Case Processing Manual: What You Need to Know

by Barley Snyder
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In March the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued its updated case processing manual to clear a backlog of complaints filed under civil rights laws.

The changes to the manual are intended to streamline management of investigations and speed-up the resolution process. In addition, the office has taken steps to substantially limit the use of broad systemic reviews related to allegations of discrimination.

The manual now dictates that complaints should be dismissed in a much broader range of circumstances, including failure to state a violation of a law or regulation, an allegation that lacks sufficient detail or a failure to file a complaint in a timely manner.

The updated manual covers rules the office is tasked with enforcing, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Title IX and others.

Some other key changes to OCR complaints in the updated manual:

Limiting what qualifies as a complaint. Complaints that rely on statistical data, media reports, journals, studies, and/or published articles as the basis for alleged discrimination will not be considered.

Dismissing complaints:

  • Complaints filed against multiple recipients will be dismissed when viewed as a whole because it places unreasonable burdens on the office’s resources. This also allows the office to decide not to investigate multiple complaints filed by a single complainant.
  • Complaints will be dismissed when they contain the same or similar allegations based on the same operative facts, whereas previously only cases with the same exact allegations could be dismissed.
  • If the office is unable to conclude that the complaint establishes a violation of one the laws the office enforces, the complaint will be dismissed.
  • If the complainant fails to provide information requested by the office within 14 calendar days, the complaint will be dismissed. The former time limit was 20 days.

Due process:

  • A copy of the complaint will be provided to recipients upon request.
  • The timeframe for responding to the office’s data requests will be established at their discretion, depending on the nature and extent of data requested.
  • The office will make efforts to work with recipients to conduct interviews in a manner that minimizes disruptions to the educational environment.

Narrows the scope of investigations. Regional OCR offices are required to focus on the investigation and resolution of “allegations” instead of “allegations and issues” or “issues of systemic discrimination.”

Case Resolution:

  • Rapid Resolution Process is an expedited case processing for resolving cases early in the process, and is now applicable to all cases, not just disability cases.
  • Facilitated Complaint Resolution, previously known as Early Complaint Resolution, is still the option for parties to mediate an agreement with the office.
  • Resolution Agreement now provides additional time for negotiations past the 30-day timeframe, while the investigation is ongoing. For 90-day timeframe negotiations may be extended another 30 days while the negotiations are ongoing.
  • The office will use a checklist-style approach to monitoring Resolution Agreements, where the OCR closes cases in monitoring after it determines that the recipient has completed the specific agreement requirements. The updated manual no longer requires that the office make a determination that the recipient is in compliance with the statutes and regulations that were at issue. This language also no longer needs to be included in agreements.

Appeals process is eliminated. Neither party can appeal OCR determinations.

Additional help. The office suggests it will consider providing technical assistance to recipients in those situations where the information provided is not sufficient to open an investigation, but determines that technical assistance would be beneficial to the recipient.

It remains to be seen how some of these changes will be implemented.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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