The Confusion over Civil Rights Requirements and Enforcement

Article excerpt

Your Nov. 12 account of the activities of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) ("Federal bias watchdog overzealous, some say") is seriously misleading. Indeed, as the article quotes me as saying, "I'm not shy about enforcement," but it should be clear that all actions taken during my tenure have been based on long-standing legal principles consistent with OCR's enforcement responsibilities.

Your article fails to acknowledge that OCR is pursuing a balanced enforcement agenda, focusing on cooperation with state and local authorities, emphasizing prevention over "gotcha" compliance activities and seeking partners in fighting discrimination. We reject a false choice between ignoring and overreacting to civil rights issues, and by working cooperatively, we save taxpayer dollars while remaining focused on protecting the rights of students.

In addition to failing to recognize OCR's common-sense approach to problems of discrimination, your article contains at least three major errors:

First, you suggest that under Title IX, OCR has required schools to transfer athletic resources from male programs to those for female students. Not true. OCR has never required such a transfer. The requirement is that equal athletic opportunity be provided. OCR's enforcement of the statute has long been guided by a published policy that has remained the same during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations. In 1996, we issued a policy clarification providing more detail and explaining how OCR's long-standing policy interpretation should be applied, but with no change in principles or standards. In fact, this policy clarification was circulated widely for public comment prior to being issued in final form, and those who responded agreed that the clarification helped explain OCR's long-standing policy. …