Dept. of Ed. Office of Civil Rights Updates Case Processing Manual, Signaling Aggressive Posture Moving Forward

By: Jeremy K. Schrag

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released its revised Case Processing Manual (CPM). The OCR often enforces civil rights laws and handles investigations of our nation’s schools. The CPM identifies the policies and procedures that the OCR relies on when investigating and resolving complaints. The OCR most often enforces and investigates allegations arising under Title IX, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The revised CPM makes several notable changes and suggests that the OCR will take a more aggressive stance moving forward on complaints it receives. The changes make it clear that the OCR’s obligation is to the complainant and not the recipient. For example, the new CPM states that the OCR may no longer provide the recipient with a copy of the complaint, meaning the recipient is now operating in the dark when asked to provide information to the OCR.

The OCR is also no longer required to provide the recipient with draft resolution letters, nor is the recipient given an opportunity to correct factual errors in a resolution letter. Additionally, the new CPM insinuates that the OCR will provide support for complainants during investigations. However, no similar provisions exist regarding support for recipients. This change in language raises concerns about the OCR’s role as an independent fact-finding organization.

The revised CPM makes additional changes, including defining a “complaint” as “a written statement to the Department [of Education] alleging that the rights of one or more persons have been violated and requesting that the Department take action.” This clarifies that oral allegations and anonymous correspondence do not qualify as written complaints.

If your institution is facing an OCR investigation following an official complaint, Lewis Brisbois’ Labor & Employment attorneys are available to answer questions and provide you with practical considerations to protect your organization. For more information on this development, contact the author of this post. You can also subscribe to this blog to receive email alerts when new posts go up.

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