Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
If a student has faced discrimination in their school or college, they or their parent may want to file a complaint with the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to get their school investigated and corrected. Simple.
Not so fast.
Its simple to file, but not always simple to get a filing accepted by OCR, such that they actually investigate the school or college. OCR does not take every complaint that floats their way. Instead, initial submissions, to be accepted, must clearly lay out a true case of discrimination or retaliation. Otherwise, an OCR filing may be rejected and the school issues unresolved.
When preparing to file an OCR discrimination claim, parents and students need to think like lawyers. What does this mean? Well, what do lawyers gather to prove their cases? Statements or summaries from witnesses, documents proving the facts of what occurred, reports, and/or anything that legitimately shows clear evidence of wrongdoing.
A very good timeline and description of the facts, without a lot of emotion or guessing, is important for OCR to understand what the parent or student believes is occurring. This summary should describe what happened, who is believed to have done what, and specifics, such as the time, date, location, and people alleged to have been involved. This summary can be attached to or inserted into the initial OCR complaint form.
A parent or student also needs to attach all evidence they gathered proving what occurred. Do they have email from a teacher showing discrimination is going on, or a picture that was legally taken, or a report card that shows the issues? Do they have letters to the school, texts with details, or even letters or statements from witnesses? If so, these should be forwarded with the initial complaint if possible.
“My son was discriminated against by X school on the playground.” [not so good]
“On February 1, 2021, my son was with a group of boys at X school during lunch, who all stole money together and none of them have past discipline incidents. My son has ADHD and is in special education and the other four boys are not. My son is the only boy who was suspended and the Principal called him a “waste of special education money” when he suspended him, which was witnessed by the school secretary Madge who emailed me (see attached email, suspension form, and my son’s summary of what happened written immediately afterwards). Last month the lady in the lunch room told my son she hated special ed kids and put him at the end of the lunch line” [much better]
It is clear when reviewing the two versions of the same situation, that one is more convincing than the other, as it has specific facts and documents backing the claims attached. This is the way to approach an OCR filing to try to get them to pick it up and investigate the discriminating school or college.
So get gathering the facts and proof and get filing. Schools don’t want to hear from OCR, as OCR can make their lives difficult and can even cut funding. If enough students and parents filed discrimination claims, schools and colleges would change for the better and all students would face a more tolerant environment in the future.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.